Lawmakers to Consider Overhauling State Medical Board in Wake of Newspaper Investigation
A joint legislative committee is holding a hearing today to discuss a possible "top-to-bottom overhaul" of the Medical Board of California, including a new office to handle patient complaints and greater required disclosure of allegations involving physicians, the Orange County Register reports. Lawmakers may even decide to dismantle the 19-member board and shift its authority to the state Consumer Affairs Department. The concerns surrounding the board come after a Register investigation found that the board investigates only about 20% of the roughly 10,600 complaints it receives each year and that most complaints are never disclosed to consumers looking for new doctors (Howard/Saar, Orange County Register, 4/10). The investigation also found that although the medical board may fine and suspend "repeatedly negligent physicians," doctors "rarely" lose their licenses (California Healthline, 4/8). By law, the medical board will expire in July 2003 unless it is reauthorized by the Legislature. Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), chair of the joint committee reviewing the board, said the committee will likely withhold reauthorization today and consider four options when it holds a special hearing in May: terminating the board, creating a new enforcement system, mandating additional disclosure of complaints and assessing how the board handled patient complaints. In addition, at the request of Assembly member Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), state auditors are expected to investigate the board (Orange County Register, 4/10).
The Register's investigation into the medical board was an "eye-opener" that found the board "obviously isn't doing a good job," the paper writes in an editorial. Instead of working to "ensure a reasonable level of care," the board has functioned "more as a protective shield around like-minded colleagues." Although any potential reforms should ensure that doctors are not "encumbered with unreasonable paperwork and legal expenses," the medical board needs to be "examined thoroughly" to make it "more responsive to ensuring patient safety and disclosing more information." And while there is "no quick remedy" for reforming the board, the Register concludes that improvement should "begi[n] with fully documenting and diagnosing the medical board's alarming shortfalls" (Orange County Register, 4/9).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.