Effective this month, California doctors are reporting their probation statuses.
A new law changing reporting procedures for Californian doctors who are on probation for drug abuse, sexual misconduct, or other charges is moving forward as scheduled and has officially taken effect this month. Practitioners will now have to disclose this status to all of their patients in order to keep their medical licenses.
The new legislation, SB1448, written by state Senantor Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, requires licensed physicians to notify their patients if they are on probation for an offense that has or could cause harm to patients, including inappropriate prescribing history that has resulted in patient harm. This means those who have a history of overprescribing opioids will now have to disclose to patients that they have been cited for doing so. The law was also meant to address the influx of physician sexual assault claims that have been filed in recent years.
SB1448 applies to doctors who are placed on probation on or after July 1, 2019 and includes a wide range of disciplines. Surgeons, osteopaths, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, podiatrists, and acupuncturists are among those bound to the reporting measures. The hope is that this will limit the number of patients negatively affected. Physicians will be less apt to continue their bad behavior if they have to let their patients know, thus potentially limiting their income stream, and patients can readily opt to seek treatment elsewhere. Estimates indicate, on average, roughly 130 Californian physicians are placed on probation each year.
Under the new arrangement, notice will be given to patients in writing prior to their first appointment, so they can make an objective determination of whether they want to see the physician or go elsewhere. Of course, this means that patients are aware of the misbehavior and accept some risk in choosing to continue being treated by a doctor on probation despite receiving notice. The patient must acknowledge receipt by signing the document.
When the legislation was signed by Governor Brown, Lee Harris, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said the statute was “a long-overdue fix,” adding, “It’s never made sense that doctors have had to tell their insurance companies, hospitals, and clinics when they are put on probation, but not the people who are most at risk — their patients.”
Hill added, “It’s a great day for Californians and the movement to increase consumer protections for patients and bring greater transparency to patient-doctor interactions. Patients have the right to be notified of their doctor’s status, so they can make informed decisions about their care.” He added, “As the testimony of survivors showed, leaving patients in the dark about this critical information makes them vulnerable to abuse.”
Critics of the court system have long thought probation might be seen as a way for doctors to resolve legal disputes without having to admit responsibility and worry about reporting their crimes. Prior to SB1448, doctors could continue practicing without notifying patients of their probation status. Patients could find this information online (maybe), but it would only be by happenstance. Physicians were not forced to notify anyone. Rather, it was up to the patient to do their own research. California legislators have finally found a way to be more proactive and patient advocates are celebrating the progress.