More than 400 California doctors are on probation for violations that include sexual misconduct, substance abuse, and patient deaths.

More than 400 California doctors are on probation for violations including substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and patient deaths (Consumers Union).

If your doctor was on probation for sexual misconduct with a patient, would you want to know? What about offenses related to drug or alcohol addiction, or gross negligence? Unfortunately, in the state of California, that information is not easy to come by.

Transparency is the big buzzword in healthcare these days. Hospital administrators rattle on about promoting easier access to healthcare information such as billing and records. But no one is buzzing about transparency for doctors, particularly the 400+ doctors currently on probation in the state of California. And the Medical Board wants to keep it that way.

Doctors are required to notify their medical malpractice companies, as well as the hospitals where they have privileges–but not the people relying on them for care. Activists at the California Safe Patient Network say Californians have the right to know. We have launched an online petition drive to persuade the Medical Board of California to require doctors on probation to inform their patients about their probation status.

Instead of being told about a doctor’s disciplinary background, the Board thinks consumers should find out this information themselves by looking up their doctors on a website called “BreEZe”. But BreEZe is not, in fact, a breeze to use; even Board members have complained about its clunky user interface. Here’s a guide to lead you through the process:

  • Step One: Know about BreEZe in the first place!
  • Step Two: Find the Medical Board website and click on “verify a license”.
  • Step Three: Have the exact name and spelling of the doctor. Careful, this is tricky–some of them are registered under a different name with the Medical Board than in practice.
  • Step Four: If you find them, click around the website until you find your doctor’s profile. Then scroll through page after page of medical jargon and legalese to find out if he or she is on probation, what the offense was, and how they failed to meet standard of care.

For a patient just looking to receive safe and quality healthcare, this is a lot to ask–particularly for something that feels like a basic right.

It’s ironic that the Medical Board supports this outdated system. After all, just last October, Board members adopted a policy stating that all California consumers have the right to know the disciplinary history of any healthcare provider. Board President David Serrano Sewell even emphasized consumer protection in the past two MBC newsletters, writing that “knowledge is power”, and “transparency is an important consumer right.”

That’s a nice turn of phrase, but it’s time for the Medical Board to live up to their rhetoric.

If you live in California, please support patients’ rights to make informed choices about their doctors by signing our online petition encouraging the Medical Board to make this important change.

Guest post by Marian Hollingsworth, member of Consumers Union’s California Safe Patient Network