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Critics Say Patients Need More Protection From Disciplined Doctors

Medical board’s director said it’s cracking down more than ever.

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    The Medical Board of California says it is cracking down on doctors who violate their probation, while critics say the Board must do more to protect patients.

    At a hearing Monday in Sacramento, Kimberly Kirchmeyer, the Medical Board’s executive director, testified the Board has 15 inspectors who keep track of the 635 doctors currently on probation for gross negligence, self-prescribing and over-prescribing narcotics or other dangerous drugs, inappropriate sexual contact with patients, and other serious violations.

    To see a list of which doctors are on probation, click here. 

    Kirchmeyer said the Board has issued more “cease practice” orders than ever before against doctors who violated the terms of their probation. She also said the Board conducts quarterly reviews of doctors on probation, to help make sure those physicians are obeying restrictions imposed on their practices. One thing Kirchmeyer noted is doctors ordered to have a chaperon when they examine opposite sex patients are required to inform all patients of that condition of their probation.

    California State Senator Jerry Hill, who chairs the committee that reviews the Medical Board’s actions, appeared unimpressed. He said 30 percent of doctors on probation violate the terms of their probation.

    “And that’s the part that’s troubling,” Hill said.

    Hill and other Medical Board critics are demanding all doctors on probation for serious offenses be required to notify patients of that discipline. Currently, patients can only learn about their doctor’s disciplinary status by reviewing licensing information on the Medical Board’s website.

    Click here to verify a doctor’s license using the Board’s website.

    Senator Hill has long criticized the availability of a doctor’s probation status, arguing the website is difficult to navigate and that some patients, especially older ones, don’t have access to the internet.

    At the hearing, other critics agreed and offered emotional testimony Monday.

    Marian Hollingsworth, who traveled to Sacramento from San Diego, urged the Board to “protect patients, not doctors” by requiring the disclosure. Another patient, who claimed she was sexually assaulted by her doctor, said, “It’s not easy to get on your website and find information that I should know, so I can make a good choice about whether I want to see (a) doctor.”

    Carmen Balber, the Executive Director of Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer advocacy group, also testified during Monday’s hearing.

    “We’re talking about patients’ lives,” she said urging the Medical Board to stop debating the issue of probationary notification and immediately impose that requirement.

    At the end of the discussion, Kirchmeyer told the Senate committee “…the board is still looking into that issue.” She said the Board will review any new legislation that might be introduced by Hill and take a position on that legislation at its quarterly meeting.

    A representative of the California Medical Association, which represents the state’s doctors, said the Association continues to oppose mandatory disclosure of probation. CMA representative Alicia Sanchez said any law that forces doctors to inform all patients of their probationary status violates their “constitutional right to due process and could negatively impact patient privacy.”

    While Sanchez pledged to cooperate with the Medical Board, she said Monday’s Senate hearing was not an appropriate forum for discussion of the controversial issue.

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