Editorial

Patients have a right to know when a doctor is on probation for a serious violation

Before you schedule a physical for your teenage daughter, wouldn’t you like to know if her physician has been put on probation by the state medical board for inappropriately touching young female patients? Similarly, wouldn’t you want to know if the surgeon who’s about to operate on you had been sanctioned for operating while under the influence of drugs?

These shouldn’t even be questions. People place a tremendous amount of trust in doctors and should be confident it is well placed before putting their bodies and lives on the line. Yet, surprisingly, a bill to extend the life of the California Medical Board was blocked in an Assembly committee this month because it included a provision requiring physicians disciplined for serious violations to notify patients that they are on probation, and why. On average, 500 to 600 doctors are on probation for serious violations, including drug abuse, sexual assault and criminal convictions related to medical care.

It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to impose new requirements when extending a licensing board’s authorization. But this particular requirement is strongly opposed by the California Medical Assn., even though it would apply to a fraction of the state’s 137,000 licensed physicians and the information is already public. The only issue is whether doctors should have to tell patients when they go on probation, or if the onus should be on patients to research their doctor’s background.

Given that the medical board will be disbanded next year if the Legislature does not vote to extend its operations, the issue is expected to return in some form when the state Legislature comes back from recess in August. When it does, legislators should take the side of patients over the interests of the small percentage of delinquent doctors.

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