First-of-its-kind law requires California doctors to disclose sexual misconduct to patients

A new California law will require physicians to tell patients if the state medical board has placed them on probation for sexual misconduct or other wrongdoing.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law, the first of its kind in the United States, which will require doctors to report activities under the Patient’s Right to Know Act, including sexual misconduct, drug misuse that has harmed or could harm patients, a criminal conviction involving harm to patients and inappropriate prescribing.

Olympic gymnasts, hoping to protect others from the kind of abuse they suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, backed the legislation. It makes California the first state to require doctors to disclose to patients when they are placed on probation for harming patients under their care.

Previous versions of the legislation failed twice, but this year it won approval in light of the #Me Too movement against sexual harassment. Some physician groups, including the California Medical Association, opposed the bill, saying it would be unfair and overly burdensome on physicians. The new law applies to doctors placed on probation after July 1, 2019.

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“It’s never made sense that doctors have had to tell their insurance companies, hospitals and clinics when they are put on probation, but not the people who are most at risk—their patients,” said Lee Harris, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, in a statement. “Californians have a right to know if their doctor is on probation for serious misconduct.”

In California, disciplinary actions against doctors are already public, since the Medical Board of California has an online registry that lists when physicians are on probation and the reasons for the disciplinary action. However, patients had to research a doctor’s record.

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Under the new law, physicians on probation must directly alert patients about their status before an appointment. The bill affects physicians and surgeons licensed by the Medical Board of California, the California Board of Podiatric Medicine and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, doctors licensed by the state’s Naturopathic Medicine Committee, and practitioners licensed by the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the California Acupuncture Board.