What Most Patients Don’t Know: More Than 500 Doctors Statewide Are On Probation

February 22, 2017

Immediate Release – Office of State Senator Jerry Hill – February 22, 2017

Senate Committee Exposes Doctor Misconduct Revealed In Medical Board Documents

What Most Patients Don’t Know: More Than 500 Doctors Statewide Are On Probation; Allegations Include Sexual Misconduct, Taking Drugs While On Duty, Felony Convictions, And Causing Patient Deaths Because Of Negligence

[Editors: Links to additional information are below.]

SACRAMENTO -- The Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development released a report today that addresses the hundreds of doctors throughout the state who are on probation. The report is among materials issued in advance of the committee’s February 27 sunset review hearing of the state Medical Board.

Documents on file with the Medical Board reveal that even though doctors have been disciplined in response to allegations that they caused patient death, engaged in sexual misconduct with patients, and performed surgery under the influence of controlled substances, or because they were convicted of felonies, including health care fraud and assault with a deadly weapon, they continue to practice -- without their patients knowing of their probation.

“The Medical Board has taken away hundreds of licenses from bad doctors in recent years, and now it’s time for the Legislature to do its part to make sure patients know that their doctor might be a sexual predator, drug addict, felon, or caused the death of a patient due to incompetence,” said Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, who chairs the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development.

Each year the Office of the Attorney General and Medical Board investigate hundreds of doctor misconduct cases. Based on the severity of the case, the board revokes licenses -- or receives surrendered licenses -- from about 100 physicians a year. The board also allows about 100 doctors each year to continue practicing but places them on administrative probation with various conditions, such as requiring that they attend drug treatment classes, submit to drug testing, not oversee physician assistants, or requiring that they have another physician in the room when seeing patients.

Despite the range of conditions that can be imposed, physicians are not required to inform their patients about their probationary status.

“You’re notified if your car is recalled, but it’s far from easy -- and for some it’s nearly impossible -- to find out if your doctor is on probation and the reasons why,” said Senator Hill. “How are patients supposed to make informed decisions about their health care if they aren’t notified about this critical information?”

The Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development periodically conducts hearings to review the operations of the Department of Consumer Affairs and the regulatory bodies within the department. Through these hearings and their accompanying reports, the committee performs a top-to-bottom review, known as “sunset review,” and determines whether the regulatory entities should continue to operate. Certain boards, like the Medical Board of California, have come under scrutiny for delays in enforcement and other issues.

In its report for the February 27 sunset review hearing on the Medical Board, the staff of Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development recommends that the law “should be amended to ensure that patients receive timely notification of their physician’s probationary status, that patients are easily able to obtain understandable information about violations leading to probation and that MBC [Medical Board of California] makes changes to the disciplinary enforcement information displayed on its website to allow for easier public access and understanding of actions MBC has taken.”

The recommendation of Senate Committee staff also applies to the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, which licenses 7,700 osteopaths, 6,700 of whom practice in California. About 40 osteopaths – about one half of 1 percent of the total number of licensees – are on probation.

There are roughly 137,000 physicians in the state who are licensed by the Medical Board of California. Less than one percent are on probation.

In compiling the report for the hearing, documents for each case on file on the Medical Board of California’s website were reviewed to determine the basis for each doctor’s probation. Until the report and its appendices were released, it was a challenge, if not extremely difficult, for patients to know if and why their doctor was on probation. They would have to search through the Medical Board’s website and read through legal documents that are often dozens of pages.

“There are two main issues: Patients are not notified that their doctor is on probation and, if their doctor is on probation, they don’t know why,” said Hill. “Since the Legislature failed to require patient notification of doctors on probation last year, and since the Medical Board didn’t require it on its own, I’m releasing this information so consumers can make informed decisions about their doctors.”

“Over 99 percent of doctors are good actors and are improving the quality of life for patients every day,” Hill said. “As policymakers we need to determine if it’s appropriate for the doctors on probation to continue practicing and if so, ensure that patients are notified before their visit.”

Complete records of physician disciplinary proceedings are available on Medical Board of California’s website, http://www.mbc.ca.gov/. Its database can be accessed at http://www.mbc.ca.gov/Breeze/License_Verification.aspx.

Please be advised that some of the documents, particularly in sexual misconduct cases, contain highly graphic content.

The medical board’s consumer information and complaint unit can be reached at 1-800-633-2322.

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Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404, leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov