The California Medical Board’s Lack of Resources and Oversight Jeopardizes Patient Safety
The California Medical Board is a government agency that is part of the Department of Consumer Affairs. It has the responsibility to license physicians who meet state criteria and are considered qualified. It also ensures doctor compliance with state continuing education requirements and provides public records information to patients about doctors. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the medical board disciplines physicians who fail to provide care with the requisite skill required of medical professionals, explains a California personal injury attorney.
Doctors who breach the duty of care they owe to their patients may be subject to a variety of different legal actions. Patients may sue them for medical malpractice. Hospitals may revoke their privileges and no longer permit them to treat patients there. In some cases, physicians may even face criminal charges if the medical care they provided rose to the level of gross negligence.
While all of these sanctions can create serious consequences for a physician, ultimately a suspension or revocation of a medical license may be the only thing that actually stops a bad doctor from practicing medicine once and for all.
Unfortunately, while the California Medical Board is supposed to respond to complaints, discipline doctors, and take action against the licenses of ineffective or dangerous doctors, some evidence suggests they are failing in these tasks. Last March, a representative of the nonprofit public interest group Public Citizen sent a letter to the director of the Board indicating that doctors whose privileges had been revoked or suspended by hospitals or other medical service providers between 1990 and 2009 had escaped the scrutiny of the Board. A study of the National Practitioner Data Bank revealed that of the 710 doctors who had evaded disciplinary actions, 102 were considered a threat to patients.
The California Medical Board responded that it does not engage in private disciplinary actions. Business & Professional Code section 805 requires that a peer review body must file reports of actions taken to remove a doctor’s privileges. The reports, which are called 805 reports, result in the board opening an investigation.
In addition Business and Professional Code section 801.01 indicates that an investigation can be triggered when the board receives "801 reports" about medical malpractice cases if the judgment or settlement against the doctor was above $30,000.
Finally, the board indicated that they could take disciplinary action if a doctor had his or her medical license disciplined in a different state or on a federal level for an action that would be considered unprofessional conduct in California.
While it appears from the Board’s response that it would take action if it received reports of loss of privilege or medical malpractice cases, the fact is that the board is not doing enough.
First, the Board is not necessarily aware of loss-of-privilege actions or medical malpractice actions from other jurisdictions when an 801 or 805 report may not have been filed. While there is a national data base (which Public Citizen reviewed to find the information that prompted their letter), the Medical Board apparently does not have the incentive, nor the personnel, to review this to find out about actions taken against doctors who they may not have received reports about.
Worse, even when the board does have reports or other information given to them about a dangerous physician, they still may not take sufficient steps to discipline the doctor. According to a subsequent letter written by a representative of Public Citizen to Governor Jerry Brown, California's Medical Board has become ineffective. While California was 18th in the country for disciplining physicians in 1997, the California Medical Board's performance is now ranked among the lower half of the states.
The increasing ineffectiveness of the California Medical Board is, perhaps, due to severe budget cuts and hiring freezes that the Board has cited as a reason for not taking action against the dangerous doctors who had had large medical malpractice cases or who had had their privileges removed but who were still licensed to practice in California.
The California Medical Board’s lack of resources and oversight jeopardizes the safety of patients by failing to remove unscrupulous or negligent doctors from the medical field. Moreover, patients’ access to the disciplinary history of physicians they’re considering visiting is compromised, as many of those who have faced lawsuits or restrictions or revocations of their privileges would have no record of disciplinary action in the California Medical Board’s records.
For additional information on this subject, or to discuss a specific legal matter with a California personal injury attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596.