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KPBS Midday Edition

Is California Doing Enough To Protect Patients From Bad Doctors?

Kevin Antario Brown, a doctor who sexually assaulted eight female patients and an undercover detective while working at three medical facilities in Los Angeles and Glendale, Calif., listens as he is sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison, at the Los Angeles Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.
Associated Press
Kevin Antario Brown, a doctor who sexually assaulted eight female patients and an undercover detective while working at three medical facilities in Los Angeles and Glendale, Calif., listens as he is sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison, at the Los Angeles Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.
Is California Doing Enough To Protect Patients From Bad Doctors?
Is California Doing Enough To Protect Patients From Bad Doctors? GUEST:Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Some lawmakers believe patients should be notified if the doctor is on probation for a serious offense. That is the idea behind a measure that has not been able to clear this date legislature. The medical Association has tried to kill the bill two years in a row. Kenny Goldberg says supporters are not ready to give up.Marion Hollandsworth needed a colonoscopy. Her primary care doctor referred her to an introit just who performed a procedure. Everything was okay.A few years later, Hollandsworth learn how to research doctors on the medical board website. She decided to check the records of the doctor who did her colonoscopy.I about fell over because he was about to start a 30 day suspension and seven years probation for a decade long history of drug and alcohol abuse but what got the attention of the medical board is that he went after a patient with a hatchet.The medical board investigated this doctor before expect in the early 2000, he was recommended for the medical board diversion program they had at that time. He failed other diversion programs. He tried voluntarily and he failed the medical board version and nothing was done.Any disciplinary action taken against a physician in California is listed on the medical board website but it is not user friendly. Hollandsworth takes us through a search of a doctor who has public records.Click to Sir theTo see what he did. Here, for the five years probation, you have to click there. You have to know to click here.Even if a doctor is punished for being drunk on the job, they are not required to tell patients about it.A bill would have changed that. It would have required doctors to notify patients in writing if the medical board with them on probation or a serious offense like sexual misconduct with a patient or operating under the influence of drugs. The California medical Association said no. He lobbied to kill the bill. The CMA did not agree to be interviewed for the story. Any written statement, a spokeswoman said such notification would erode the fundamental right to due process by basing notification on accusation rather than a finding of fact.That is false.Writ budget directs the law at Sandy go.They have stipulated with the medical board that they did commit the conduct that they are accused of or that the board could prove the case or certain elements of the case.Grammy says the CMA is wrong on this.They are trying to make it sound like there is a good reason but they do not have a good reason. They do not want to tell patients because it would be embarrassing. That is not a good enough reason.There are an estimated 137,000 licensed physicians. In that is in California. They put 124 doctors on probation each year. The failed bill would have applied to a subset of those doctors. The CMA helped kill a measure that would have affected 2/100 of a percent. Jeffrey Gordon has a unique perspective. He not only spent 35 years in private practice but he also served on the state medical board for eight years in the 1970s. He says the board has an obligation to protect patients from bad doctors expect to put their names on our website is not adequate. Each physician ought to be responsible for notifying his patients that he has not been morally responsible.Marion has become a pursuit or for more public disclosure. She thinks the medical board does not have the priority straight.The investigator in my case told me it is the medical board's job to make sure they remain in practice for as long as practice.I thought it was to protect patients.She says that to.KPBS news.Joining me is Jerry Hill the sponsor of SB 798. Welcome to the program.Thank you.What is this is of the bill ?This was approved by the Senate yesterday. It will go to the governor. It is a different bill than the bill the Senate approved in May of this year.When it came to the Senate from the assembly, the patient protection issues, they were able to get removed from the California medical Association.The patient notification of doctors on probation, that was removed from the bill ?That was removed from the bill. I have been fighting for this issue it came up last year when we saw the egregious violations of medical practice and from physicians who caused patient harm. They were given probation to serve or the sanction from the medical board. They would do the job and see patients and patients would not know. Many of these physicians are discipline for a sexual misconduct and a lot of times, the condition of probation is that they cannot see female patients if they are male and chaperone. The patient does not know that. Many doctors us are practicing in Seoul practices where there is no one to monitor them. To me, this most significant aspect is that we find the medical board, 30% of the physicians recidivate. They do it again. The patient should have an has a right to know to be told upfront before they see the doctor that that Doctor is on probation and here are the conditions and terms and that probation.Center Hill, this is not the first time that legislation that you sponsored to strengthen Doctor the closure has come up against the California medical Association.Why is the CMA such a powerful group?I cannot explain why. Every person who makes a decision based on their influence or the lab he -- the lobby, they have to look at why they made that decision. They are very powerful and we have been fighting to try to protect the patient and we are only talking about in California, 137,000 doctors, they practice and there are only 600 you are on probation. And of that number, many less are there for the three issues that we are concerned with with this gross negligence, sexual misconduct or substance abuse that will affect the Mac practice in medicine. Right now, if a doctor is on probation, they are required by law to notify the insurance company and required by law to notify the hospital that they are affiliated with but the most important person in the healthcare continuum is the patient. They are not required to be notified. There is something wrong with that.If doctors were required to tell patients they are about to be suspended or put on probation, would that kill the Mac practice ?It could but that is not something that we should be concerned with. That is the argument that the medical Association makes that this would put them out of business. I think that my responsibility as the chair of the business and profession committee is to protect patients and consumers and to over see the human affairs.What benefit would this have on patients besides them saying I do not want to affiliate with this Doctor?I do not know if that is the case.There are physicians who have long relationships and good relationships with patients that this may not affect them. They may be able to have that relationship. I am fascinated by the argument. This bill came forward is to why a psychiatrist should not be -- should not have to disclose probation status is that this would breach the trust that is necessary between the patient and the position if you notify them.That makes no sense to me.Shouldn't you be honest with your patient and let them know the circumstances around her practice? That is the trust that should be built, not deceive them by not telling them of the proms you have.You put forward a disclosure law last year and a disclosure law this year. They have not made it into the final legislation. Do you intend to keep doing it ?I do. I will continue this fight because it is most important for the people of California and the good thing is that the California medical board on this legislation, they were supportive of the legislation with the amendments that we placed in allowing for and requiring patient notification of doctors on probation but that is a good first step. They had previously not felt that it was necessary to notify patients. This information is available today on a medical board website. It is not easy to find and that is the problem. Most of us do not look at or think to look at a website or go to the medical board when we go to a position, to see if they have a license and if there has been disciplinary actions. We take it to granted and we hold them in highest esteem. I feel there should be a better level of transparency and information that is provided to patients.I have been speaking with Jerry Hill. Thank you.Thank you. It is my pleasure.

In 2011, Marian Hollingsworth needed to get a colonoscopy.

Her primary care doctor referred her to a gastroenterologist, who performed the procedure. It went well.

A few years later, Hollingsworth learned how to research doctors on the California Medical Board’s website.

She decided to check the records of the doctor who did her colonoscopy.

“And I about fell over, because he was about to start a 30-day suspension and seven years probation for a decades-long history of drug and alcohol abuse," she said. "But what finally got the attention of the medical board, is that he went after a patient with a hatchet.”

Hollingsworth discovered that the medical board had investigated this doctor before.

“And in the early 2000s he was recommended for the medical board’s diversion program that they had at that time, and he had failed some other diversion programs he had tried voluntarily," she said. "He had also failed the medical board version, and nothing was ever done.”

Any disciplinary action taken against a physician in California is listed on the medical board’s website.

Is California Doing Enough To Protect Patients From Bad Doctors?

Not required to tell patients

But the website is not exactly user-friendly.

In fact, someone searching for a doctor's public records needs to navigate through multiple screens, and be willing to sort through pages upon pages of legal documents, before they can discover exactly why a particular doctor was disciplined.

But even if a doctor is punished for being drunk on the job, they’re not required to tell patients about it.

A bill (SB 798) in the state legislature would have changed that.

It would have required doctors to notify patients in writing if the medical board put them on probation for a serious offense, like sexual misconduct with a patient, or operating under the influence of drugs.

The California Medical Association lobbied to kill the bill.

CMA officials did not agree to be interviewed for this story.

In an email, Joanne Adams, CMA's associate director of communications, said such patient notification “would erode the fundamental right to due process by basing notification on accusations, rather than a finding of fact.”

Bridget Gramme, administrative director for University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law, said that argument was patently false.

“Anyone that’s on probation, has either stipulated with the medical board that they did commit the conduct they’re accused of, or that the board could at least prove its case, or at least certain elements of its case,” she said.

Gramme said the CMA is dead wrong on this one.

“I think they’re trying to make it sound like there’s a good reason, but I don’t think they have a good reason," she said. "They just don’t want to have to tell their patients, because it would harm their business, and it would be embarrassing, and that’s just not a good enough reason.”

A unique perspective

There are an estimated 137,000 licensed physicians in California. Each year on average, the medical board puts 124 doctors on probation.

The failed bill would have applied to a subset of those doctors: some 40 a year.

In other words, the CMA lobbied to kill a measure that would have affected about two-one-hundredths of one percent (.02 percent) of all doctors in the state.

San Diego physician Jeoffry Gordon has a unique perspective on this issue.

He not only spent 35 years in private practice, but he also served on the state’s medical board for eight years back in the 1970s.

Gordon said the board has an obligation to protect patients from bad doctors.

“And to put their names on our website is not adequate," he said. "I think each physician ought to be responsible for notifying his patients that he’s not been morally responsible.”

Marian Hollingsworth has become a crusader for more public disclosure. The bottom line? She thinks the medical board does not have its priorities straight.

“The investigator in my case actually told me that it’s the medical board’s job to make sure doctors remain in practice for as long as possible," Hollingsworth recalled. "And I said, ‘Well, I thought it was to protect patients.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, that too.’”