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Consumers Union Urges Lawmakers to Support Bill Requiring Doctors on Probation for Serious Offenses to Notify Patients

SACRAMENTO, CA (April 11, 2016) – Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, is urging state lawmakers to support SB 1033, which would protect Californians’ right to know about doctors who have been disciplined by the state medical board for a history of misconduct. The bill requires doctors on probation for serious offenses to inform their patients and will be voted on today by the Senate Business and Professions Committee.

“Californians have a right to know whether their doctor has been put on probation for behavior that could endanger their health,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “This bill will ensure that patients aren’t left in the dark and get the notice they deserve when their doctors have a history of serious misconduct.”

Under Senator Hill’s bill, doctors would be required to notify their patients when they have been put on probation for serious offenses, including gross negligence, repeated acts of inappropriate or excessive prescribing of medication, sexual misconduct, and drug or alcohol abuse that threatens the doctor’s ability to practice safely. Doctors who are repeatedly on probation will also have to notify their patients. The bill requires doctors on probation to obtain a signed receipt from patients verifying that they have been informed. Additionally, SB 1033 requires the Board to include in each order of probation, and other communications to the public, a plain-language summary describing why the doctor has been disciplined, the length and end date of the probation, and any practice restrictions that have been imposed.

Approximately 600 doctors in the state are currently on probation, many for a variety of serious offenses. While these doctors are required to disclose their probationary status to hospitals where they work and malpractice insurers, they have no obligation to inform their patients. SB 1033 was introduced after the Medical Board turned down a similar proposal by Consumers Union to require patient notification in such cases. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 82 percent of consumers are in favor of requiring doctors to tell their patients if they are on probation and why.

Notifying patients is particularly important since many doctors who have been disciplined turn out to be repeat offenders. The California Research Bureau found that doctors who have been sanctioned by the Medical Board for serious offenses are far more likely to be disciplined in the future than doctors who have not been sanctioned. Indeed, the Medical Board’s own research reached the same conclusion. It found that 17 percent of the 444 doctors who were actively practicing while on probation during FY 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 required additional discipline or surrendered their licenses while on probation. By comparison, similar research has found that less than 1 percent of doctors who were unsanctioned were subsequently disciplined during a follow-up period studied.

For a list of California doctors on probation as of September 29, 2015 compiled by the Medical Board of California and obtained by Consumers Union in accordance with the California Public Records Act, see California Doctors on Probation. In addition to the physicians listed in this spreadsheet, an additional 48 physicians were issued probationary licenses by the Medical Board and continue to be on probation as of September 29, 2015.

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Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.

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