State Medical Board Walks Gray Line When Disciplining Doctors
The Medical Board of California -- which oversees the state's 100,000 physicians -- has taken disciplinary action against numerous California physicians but has allowed some doctors with several patient safety lapses to continue practicing medicine, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Most physicians charged with safety violations either are put on probation or receive a reprimand from the board, but are permitted to continue treating patients. The board may require the doctor in question to enroll in extra classes or assign another physician to oversee the disciplined doctor's work.
However, no "three-strikes" rule exists to revoke a physician's license after too many problems arise.
Frank Zerunyan -- a Southern California attorney and vice president of the medical board -- said trying to establish that type of disciplinary process would create problems. "No two cases are alike. There is no one size fits all," Zerunyan said.
During fiscal year 2008-2009, the board received 6,437 complaints against physicians. Of those, the board launched 1,123 formal investigations and referred 450 of the investigated cases to the state attorney general. Of the 450 referred cases, the board issued 238 formal accusations.
That year, the board rescinded the licenses of 45 physicians and accepted 35 licenses surrendered by physicians under investigation. In addition, the board put 182 physicians on probation.
Disciplined Doctors Continuing To Practice
Eight California physicians have faced disciplinary action at least three times and are continuing to practice medicine, according to a Sacramento Bee review of the board's disciplinary database. The doctors' alleged or proven offenses include:
- Throwing patients' private records into garbage bins;
- Lying about their qualifications;
- Double billing;
- Prescribing incorrect drugs;
- Missing diagnoses;
- Treating patients while impaired; and
- Making major mistakes during procedures.
Disclosing Physician Mistakes
In general, the medical board does not disclose information about ongoing investigations on its public database unless it formally issues an accusation. The database also does not provide information on:
- Pending malpractice lawsuits;
- Most misdemeanor convictions; and
- Felony convictions before 1991 (Dahlberg, Sacramento Bee, 9/5).