MEDICAL ERRORS: Hospitals Fail to Report ‘Problem Doctors’
California's health care system "is failing to identify and deal with problem doctors," according to California state regulators and health care experts who testified at a hearing yesterday. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the hearing was called by state Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), the Senate Business and Professions Committee chair, "in response to a Chronicle article that revealed how hospitals skirt regulations requiring them to notify the California Medical Board about problem doctors." Current state law mandates that hospitals report to the California Medical Board any instances of physician discipline that exceed 15 days "as a result of putting a patient's safety at risk." However, the number of disciplinary reports received by the California Medical Board has dropped significantly in the past decade, mostly due to the fact that disciplinary actions and reports are based on "internal hospital peer reviews," called "805s," and most doctors are "loath" to report a colleague. Meanwhile, patient complaints have risen by 55% in the past decade. The Chronicle reports that "[s]ome 45% of the state's 557 hospitals have never filed an 805 report." The California Medical Board is now considering numerous proposals to bolster reporting law compliance, including one to raise the civil penalty for "failure to report" from $5,000 to $50,000. Several physician and hospital representatives oppose the penalty hikes, arguing that "increasing fines will only drive problem doctors further underground," as 805 reports are typically an "irredeemable black mark" on a physician's career. Despite these drawbacks, Dr. Loren Johnson, who testified on behalf of the California Medical Association, said that the 805 reporting system works, and that it is "modifying behavior within medical staffs." Figueroa commented after the hearing that she was "disappointed" in the California Medical Association's response, adding, "Obviously, the system is not working" (Wells, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/18).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.