Report Critical of Medical Board Processes, Investigations
The Medical Board of California on average completes investigations against doctors in 2.63 years and about four years if doctors appeal, according to a report published in November, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The report -- written principally by Julianne D'Angelo Fellmeth, administrative director for the University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law -- was mandated by legislation introduced by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) that former Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed in 2002.
The report found that the medical board:
- Sometimes does not disclose information about doctors including medical malpractice settlements, misdemeanor convictions and board decisions to refer investigations to prosecutors;
- Uses manuals and a computer system that are out-of-date as part of its enforcement system; and
- Does not often pursue court action to require physicians to provide medical records to the board.
Medical Board Executive Director David Thornton said the board has implemented some recommendations to expedite investigations, including pursuing fines against physicians who do not comply with requests to provide medical records.
Thornton said that some groups likely would not consider medical board investigations expeditious because such investigations can be complex and involve numerous documents, interviews and court hearings, the Chronicle reports. He added that the board has the authority to take immediate court action to suspend a physician's license if the board believed that a doctor could harm patients.
Robert Hertzka, president of the California Medical Association, said he was reluctant to endorse a proposal to increase physician licensing fees to fund the medical board, according to the Chronicle. "The case hasn't been made" for a fee increase, he said, adding, "We retain suspicion that they could run their shop better."
Thornton said, "CMA's public posture is that they want a strong medical board," adding, "The reality is that they want a less-vigorous enforcement program."
Figueroa said that she would pursue legislation in the current session to require the medical board to provide more information about physicians on its Web site. She said, "It's awful," adding, "People know more about their auto mechanics than they know about their physicians."
Thornton said, "The board feels that the more information you give the better, so they can make a more informed decision."
However, Hertzka said, "We are very cautious about what goes on the Medical Board Web site," adding, "Once they go on the Web site, they have a certain air of finality."
The Joint Committee on Boards, Commissions and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on the report Jan. 25 (Wallack, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/24/04). The report is available online.