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Proposed bill could get tougher on doctors

Medical patients can oftentimes be placed in uniquely vulnerable positions which is why it is important that they are properly protected. A bill that was recently proposed in California aims to remove probation as an option for doctors who have caused harm to patients through drug or alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation or felony-level misconduct. Doctors that fall into this category will now face the judicial process rather than the administrative disciplinary process overseen by state regulators. At the same time, the proposal would not require doctors placed on probation for other reasons to report their probation status to patients.

The California Medical Association, which represents 43,000 doctors statewide, backs the measure. The names and violations of 500 California doctors on probation, including 44 in San Diego County, were included in the research report. The report will be used to conduct the state medical board's sunset review which is required every four years to determine if the board should continue operating. There has also been a recommendation that there be a legal amendment requiring probation notice to patients.

As it stands now, doctors are frequently permitted to continuing practicing medicine following being placed on probation for violations ranging from sexually assaulting patients, committing repeated and serious medical errors or practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Disciplinary documents are made available on the medical board's website, however, there is concern that they may have been historically difficult to find and that the burden should not be on patients to seek out the information.

Currently, doctors on probation must notify both the hospital they work for and their medical malpractice insurance carrier. Some parties have argued that the proposed bill does not go far enough to include notification for gross negligence, the most common cause for discipline, and others have noted the patient notification language will continue as a point of discussion. Medical malpractice have been an overwhelming experience for vulnerable victims which is why there are a variety of protections and legal options for victims to be familiar with if they have been harmed by a medical professional.

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, "Focus Growing push for patients to get notified about doctors on probation," Paul Sisson, Feb. 27, 2017

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