A new landmark California law requires doctors to tell their patients when they’ve been disciplined for serious misconduct.
The breakthrough legislation was signed Wednesday by Governor Jerry Brown and is the result of years of debate and compromise by consumer and patient advocates, physicians, and the California Medical Association.
Information about accusations against physicians and discipline handed down by the Medical Board of California has long been available on the Medical Board’s website.
But the new law requires doctors to directly inform their patients if they’ve been put on probation for serious misconduct involving patient harm.
The specific disciplinary actions covered by the new law are:
- Sexual misconduct with a patient
- Drug abuse that can harm patients
- A criminal conviction involving harm to patients
- Inappropriate prescribing resulting in patient harm and five or more years of probation
“We never tried to protect those doctors, and we never will,” said Dr. Ted Mazer, a San Diego physician and president of the California Medical Association (CMA).
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But Mazer said the CMA worked hard to assure that doctors disciplined for minor wrongdoings that did not harm a patient are not “branded with a scarlet letter” that would unnecessarily harm their relationship with their patients.
For example, doctors who agree to a brief term of probation for faulty medical record keeping do not have to reveal that discipline to their patients.
“Is that a problem for patient care? No, it's a problem that the doctor has to keep a better record, but nobody found any problem with the care," Mazer explained.
Patient advocates said the extensive coverage of the conviction of USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar for molesting patients and allegations of sexual misconduct by a gynecologist at the University of Southern California provided the impetus that led to the passage of the new California law.
"Sadly, it usually takes some kind of tragedy or some kind of headline to really get the attention of legislators and make them do the right thing and actually pass these types of reforms," said Bridget Gramme of the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law.
Serious discipline with patient harm which resulted in a probationary term issued on or after July 1, 2019, will be disclosed by your doctor's office, before your exam.
That disclosure will give you the option of talking with your doctor about the issue or leaving their office and finding a new provider.
"You know, it's an individual decision,” Gramme told NBC 7. “But patients can make that choice now, having all the information that they need."
The Patient’s Right to Know Act was authored by State Senator Jerry Hill, (D-San Mateo and Santa Clara).
“This legislation owes its success to all the brave survivors who have testified about their traumatic and deeply personal experiences in the past three years,” Hill said. “As the testimony of survivors showed, leaving patients in the dark about this critical information makes them vulnerable to abuse.”
More information about the Patient’s Right to Know Act is available here.