California Consumer Affairs Department to Debate Standards for Medical Provider Complaint Disclosure
Representatives from the Department of Consumer Affairs, along with consumer advocates and industry representatives, at a hearing today will debate giving consumers "greater access" to complaints filed against doctors, pharmacists and "scores of other licenced professionals," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The disclosure policy in question would "order" agencies to make public "summaries" of complaints and allegations "immediately" after an agency supervisor determines that a law has been broken or if "the public could be harmed if the information was kept secret." The Department of Consumer Affairs and "most state licensing boards" usually informs consumers about complaints "only if the government revokes someone's license or takes other disciplinary action." Some lawyers contend that state agencies are already required to "make all complaints public" under the state's Public Records Act, but California Medical Board Executive Director Ron Joseph said he "interprets the law differently," adding that the agency has "the option to keep the information private." Kathleen Hamilton, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, said that the policy would only be "directly binding" for "bureaus under her control," adding that she "hoped independent licensing boards, like the [state] Medical Board, would use it as a model for their own rules."
Some "watchdog" groups say the measure does not go far enough, as agencies could "still keep complaints secret" by refusing to "investigate them thoroughly." Linda Sherry of San Francisco-based Consumer Action said, "The boards have been pretty secretive. The more disclosure that we can give people is a step in the right direction." Industry groups, however, oppose the policy, saying the release of complaints could "tarnish companies' or individuals' reputations." Bob McElderry, a lobbyist for the California Medical Association, said, "It's like sending out a scarlet letter. We want to see due process ... prior to any information going forward that could be very damaging to a physician's practice" (Wallack, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.