New Prescription for Recurring Ailment : California Medical Board wisely moves to allow access to information about physicians


Any patient deserves to be protected from a bad doctor. Now, after years of criticism that it had fallen down in its responsibility to do that, the California Medical Board has made a major correction. In an important vote for consumer protection, the board moved to allow the public access to crucial background information about physicians.

As a result, California now has one of the most open physician disclosure policies in the nation. Starting in about a month, anyone will be able to call (800) 633-2322 to obtain a wide range of information about a doctor, including any legal or disciplinary actions against him/her. And if legislation by Sen. Robert Presley (R-Riverside) passes this session, as it should, consumers will be able to find out even more, including whether a physician has lost permission to practice at a hospital.

The board, bit by bit, is working to get rid of its long-held reputation as a toothless oversight agency that went after only the most flagrantly unethical or incompetent physicians. Good and responsible doctors were as unhappy about the board’s laxity as many consumer groups. The disclosures will contain final decisions or judgments, including a doctor’s disciplinary history in California as well as other states. Those making inquiries also will receive a confirmation letter explaining again the significance of the legal or disciplinary action taken against the physician, says Dixon Arnett, the board’s new executive director. That is a good idea because it should minimize misunderstanding.


The board has come a long way since January, when a scathing report was issued about the California Medical Board’s past performance. The investigation found appalling mismanagement that made for, as one Administration official put it, “an outrageous abuse of the public trust.” Top officials of the board in 1990 ordered arbitrary dismissal of hundreds of cases in an attempt to erase a backlog that threatened the board’s funding from the Legislature.

Among the cases closed were patients’ complaints against medical personnel at Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles who were accused of culpability in the deaths of five patients.

Thanks to the combined efforts of persistent consumer advocate groups and the Wilson Administration, such a cavalier attitude toward patient concerns should be ancient history. On to a new and welcome era of openness for the California consumer.