Bill Requiring Disciplined Physicians to Notify Patients Advances in Sacramento

Doctors who are on probation after being disciplined by state regulators would have to share that information with patients before providing care under a bill making its way through the state Senate.

The measure, which would apply to physicians, podiatrists, acupuncturists and chiropractors, was passed by the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee this week.

About 600 of the 137,000 licensed physicians in California are on probation for serious offenses, including sexual misconduct involving patients or treatment and prescription errors that harmed patients.

The Medical Board of California in November voted down a similar proposal that would have required doctors on probation to tell their patients verbally and in writing, saying it was too onerous and unnecessary because the information is posted on the board’s website.

In California, physicians on probation are already required to report the disciplinary status to their malpractice insurers and hospitals where they work, yet there is no rule requiring proactive notifications of patients.

Doctors on probation are not necessarily admitting they violated ethics rules. Some do it to avoid lengthy and costly legal battles.

While on probation, they may be temporarily barred from performing specific procedures or prescribing certain medicines. They might have to take classes or be supervised. In some cases it means a physician disciplined for sexual misconduct must be chaperoned in the exam room.

Patient advocate Tina Minasian, of Roseville, Calif., said such a law would have prevented her much pain and misery.

“Nearly 14 years after my botched surgery, I still suffer from the lingering effects with excruciating pain, spitting sutures, gaping holes, disfigurement and a mutilated body,” she said in written testimony to the committee. “I will be forever reminded of the harm this doctor caused me and how the Medical Board of California allowed him to destroy my body, my self-confidence and my womanhood.  I know many patients who were victims of this same physician while he was on probation, in fact, some have died.”

Minasian, who works as an advocate with Consumer’s Union California Safe Patient Project, told the committee that, unbeknownst to her, Brian West, operated on her while on probation for alcohol abuse. She said his license was revoked seven years after her surgery.

The California Medical Association, which opposes the bill, said requiring doctors to inform patients directly would take up valuable time in which care could be provided, in a letter filed with the committee.

But advocacy groups like Consumers Union and Consumer Watchdog say it’s important for doctors to tell patients about their disciplinary status so patients can make informed choices about their own care.

“This is the kind of information every patient deserves to know           about their doctor before they receive medical care,” Consumer Watchdog wrote in a letter to the committee. “The patients of these doctors deserve to be notified proactively.”

The bill needs to be passed by the appropriations committee and then by the full state Senate by June 3 in order to proceed to the Assembly.

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