Consumers Union: Doctors on Probation Should Tell Patients

Consumers Union wants the Medical Board of California to require doctors who are on probation to notify their patients.

The policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports filed a petition last week urging the board to take action. The board is expected to hold a public hearing on the issue at its Oct. 30 meeting in San Diego.

Almost 500 doctors in the state are on probation, including 21 in the four-county Sacramento area. Disciplinary action was taken against them for a variety of reasons, including repeated gross negligence, substance abuse, sexual misconduct and other violations of the law.

Doctors must notify hospitals and malpractice insurers when they are put on probation. But they need not tell patients, even though research shows doctors on probation are more likely than other doctors to be disciplined in the future.

One example: Dr. Glenda Goodwin, a local doctor put on probation July 10 for gross negligence and unprofessional conduct, had two previous disciplinary incidents. She was publicly reprimanded in 2008 for gross negligence and was cited and fined twice in 2012 for problems with her medical records. She does not appear to be actively practicing today.

“A lot of people have the impression it’s a minor thing to be on probation, but these are not minor issues,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union. “A small group of doctors get into trouble, but those who do should tell patients.”
The state medical board regulates more than 130,000 doctors with active California licenses, including more than 6,600 in the Sacramento region. Information about disciplinary action against doctors is posted online, but many people don’t know that or remember to check.
The medical board hopes to change that with a new public-relations initiative that urges patients to verify medical licenses and check disciplinary records online.

“Consumer protection is our primary goal,” said board spokeswoman Cassandra Hockenson. “Our feeling is consumers need to be proactive and check information about their doctor.” She declined to comment on the petition filed by Consumers Union.

This issue has come up before.

In 2012, staff at the medical board recommended that doctors on probation be required to inform their patients, but the board rejected the proposal. Eight members of the 15-member board are doctors; two of the seven public member slots are currently vacant.

“California has regulatory authority to do this and patients have a right to know,” McGiffert said. If the proposal is voted down, Consumers Union will continue to bring it up, she said.

“We may have to go the Legislature,” she added. “But that should not be necessary — they have authority to do this.”

It’s unclear whether any other states require doctors to notify patients if they are on probation. “We expect other states (may) apply this condition, but have not researched other states,” McGiffert said.

It’s a dicey issue for doctors because probation is usually the result of a plea bargain — and agreement to submit to monitoring and other restrictions in order to maintain a practice.

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