California activists urge lawmakers to reform California Medical Board

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In March 2013, Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project organized a small but powerful gathering of eight California consumer advocates in Sacramento to discuss patient safety issues related to California’s medical board sunset review process, hospital infections, and more. One advocate who attended, Alicia Cole, sent a terrific email about the meeting that we decided to post it as a guest blog.

Guest blog post by Alicia Cole, Founder of Alliance for Safety Awareness for Patients and Survivor of multiple hospital-acquired infections including Necrotizing Fasciitis:

I wanted to share with you my trip to Sacramento last Monday (March 11) to testify at the Medical Board of California Sunset Review Hearing.

A ‘sunset review’ happens every ten years and it involves the legislature reviewing a board to see if it should continue, if it needs modifying or if they should just let the sun ‘set’ and the program end. This hearing was conducted by a joint legislative panel that oversees the Medical Board.

Once again, Consumers Union Safe patient Project (the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports) rallied its California Network to urged state lawmakers to implement a number of reforms to improve patient safety and physician accountability.

I was very proud to be part of this small group of dedicated activists (most of whom are survivors of medical harm) who spent two LONG days talking with Senators and staff members about much needed legislative change to better protect the citizens of our state.

At the hearing, I shared my own personal experience and asked for transparency regarding physician malpractice settlements. Currently the Med Board website has incomplete and therefore misleading information available to the public about their doctors. For example, the Medical Board website says my original surgeon has NO Malpractice Settlements or Judgments against him. However, if you search the records at the Burbank Superior Courthouse you will find 6 cases against him – two of which are known to have settled for over $30,000. I recommended that the sunset review legislation require all malpractice settlements over $30,000 be listed on the Medical Board’s website. This is a reasonable demand in light of the fact that it was proposed by the Medical Board’s own staff in October 2012, but was not approved by the Physician-majority Board.

Lois Daniels, a survivor of multiple medical errors, asked that legislators require the Board to mandate that physicians who are on Medical Board disciplinary probation and continue to see patients MUST inform their patients of such. Currently doctors on probation have to alert their insurance, the hospital they have privileges at…. But not their patients!!! This is unacceptable.

Long time Medical Board activist, Tina Minasian, spoke on the need for protection of patient safety through a fair statute of limitations for filing of complaints. Currently the Board states on their website that there is a seven-year timeframe by which a formal accusation must be filed. What the site doesn’t say is that the timeframe is reduce to three years from the time when someone else makes the Medical board aware of the act (ie. a nurse or a friend) – even when the patient has no knowledge of this report.

Tina nearly lost her life after being maimed by a doctor who was in the Medical Board’s secret Diversion Program. This was a program that allowed drug and alcohol addicted doctors to continue treating patients (without informing them) as long as they enrolled in an out-patient ‘treatment’ program of their choice, with a ‘monitor’ of their choice. Tina found over a hundred other patients injured by this same doctor. Several were also victims of this unclear statute of limitations and justice was never served. Thanks to Tina, Michelle Monseratt-Ramos and others, that 27 year old program was successfully abolished.

Speaking on transparency regarding physician-owned ambulatory surgery centers was Hospital-acquired infection survivor Jack French. As a patient with ongoing medical needs Jack urged the Medical Board to investigate all reported adverse events and that all ambulatory surgery centers (including physician owned and those licensed by CDPH) post notices on their premises indicating where consumers may go to lodge a complaint.

In 1975 the medical lobby promised the Legislature that, in return for the MICRA Act’s $250,000 non-economic damage cap and severe restrictions on patients’ legal rights to hold dangerous doctors accountable, a strong regulatory system under the medical board would protect patients from harm. But at every sunset marker, “The medical board has proven to be little more than a tool of the physician majority that controls it” states Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog who also testified.

A 2011 analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank by the nonprofit Public Citizen found that 710 California physicians had their privileges restricted in hospital or other settings. The medical board had taken not a single disciplinary action against them. As Jaime puts it, “California’s physician-controlled medical board has become a political protection racket for the state’s worst physicians.”