New state legislation introduced last week would require doctors on probation to inform patients about serious offenses such as excessive prescribing, sexual misconduct and drug or alcohol abuse.
SB 1033, introduced Friday by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would require sanctioned doctors to collect a signed receipt verifying that each patient has been informed about the physician’s offense and any disciplinary measures taken.
“The physician has to actively, aggressively notify a hospital,” Hill said. “They should have to actively, aggressively, notify patients.”
As it stands, patients can look up their physicians on the state medical board website, but doctors are not required to disclose any information about their licensing status.
In most cases, doctors are placed on probation for three to five years, with certain conditions, such as completing professional classes in ethics, drug prescribing and medical record keeping. In addition, many are prohibited from supervising physician assistants in their offices. Some must undergo quarterly monitoring by an assigned physician.
The state medical board declined to comment on the new legislation but said it would discuss the matter at its meeting in early May. The California Medical Association has voiced concern that a notification requirement would be bad for business.
“This would put a burden on the physician-patient relationship and take time away from important patient appointments that are already limited,” said association spokeswoman Molly Weedn in October regarding the original proposal to the medical board. “This information is already public and available online and can be accessed by anyone. This is a duplicative burden that will interfere with patient care.”
Across California, nearly 500 physicians and surgeons – or less than 1 percent of those practicing in California – are on official probation.
The Consumers Union Safe Patient Project, which works on medical safety issues, petitioned the medical board for a notification requirement in the fall. The board formed a task force, which met in January and did not take action toward a mandate.
“That was the proverbial straw,” Hill said. “I was hoping (the board) would take this upon themselves and pursue what I feel is the correct course of notification. When they chose not to, we had to step in and protect the public.”
The legislation will likely be assigned to a Senate committee for review on March 14, and then be given a hearing schedule.