Industry Voices—New California law requires doctors to disclose misconduct to patients: 6 steps for physicians

Male doctor in white lab coat
A new California law requiring physicians to disclose misconduct to patients is being watched closely by the medical industry and legislators across the country. (Getty/Saklakova)

California’s groundbreaking new “Patient’s Right to Know Act” takes effect July 1, 2019. This first-in-the-nation law has major consequences for all physicians and medical license holders practicing in the state. Senate Bill 1448 requires doctors to notify their patients if placed on probation for sexual misconduct, drug or alcohol abuse, inappropriate prescriptions or criminal convictions that involve harm to a patient.

How will it work?

Currently, when a doctor is put on probation they are only legally required to notify their insurance company and the hospital or clinic they are affiliated with. Patients usually only find out this information if they know to search on the doctor’s board license profile.

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

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That will all change July 1. The Medical Board of California (MBC) will now require all physicians subject to probation to obtain a signed disclosure from all patients before their next appointment. This written disclosure must include:

1. The physician's probation status.

2. The length of the probation and end date.

3. The practice restrictions placed on the medical licensee by the MBC.

4. An explanation of how the patient can find further information about the licensee’s probation on the licensee’s MBC website profile page. 

Which doctors are subject to new disclosure rules?

The Patient’s Right to Know Act applies to all California healing arts licensees, including those licensed by:

  • The Medical Board of California
     
  • The California Board of Podiatric Medicine
     
  • The Naturopathic Medicine Committee
     
  • The State Board of Chiropractic Examiners
     
  • The Acupuncture Board
     
  • The Osteopathic Medical Board of California

How was this change approved?

California State Senator Jerry Hill tried three times over three years to put this controversial bill up for a vote. The bill received strong pushback from the California Medical Association over concern that doctors disciplined for minor wrongdoings would have their patient relationships unnecessarily harmed and be forced out of business.

But this last time, Hill put forth the bill in the #MeToo era and with a national spotlight on major misconduct cases such as USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and USC’s gynecologist George Tyndall. Several survivors of sexual abuse by those physicians testified to the California State Assembly under intense media coverage, which provided the impetus that led to passage of the new law.

What about other states?

California is the most populous state in the country with over 39.5 million residents, making up almost 12% of the entire United States population. California tends to be a hotbed of interesting ideas, and the new law is being watched closely by the medical industry and legislators all across the country. Many expect other states to move in California’s direction of requiring more disclosure.

What should doctors do?

These new patient’s rights initiatives significantly raise the stakes of reputational risk and consequences for disciplined physicians, medical centers and healthcare businesses.

Now, more than ever, professional license defense attorneys are advising healthcare licensees to vigorously protect their license and reputation. Here are some proactive steps doctors can take:

1. Audit how you identify, keep track of and handle patient complaints. Consider assigning someone or a service to monitor complaints and stay out in front of them.

2. If your practice has multiple doctors, ensure good information sharing and visibility of potential risks that can affect the whole office.

RELATED: When sexual misconduct charges against doctors make headlines, organizations need to react quickly

3. Work to eliminate patient frustrations and increase patient satisfaction to reduce the urge to post complaints. 

4. Evaluate and consider using chaperones and giving patients the option to opt out of a chaperone, especially for male doctors in ob-gyn practices.

5. If you’re going to drink alcohol when you go out, make it a habit not to drive. Use a service such as Uber.

6. Be extremely careful to avoid any potential criminal conduct such as substance abuse or prescription violations. 

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