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Proposed legislation would enact important changes to hold dangerous doctors more accountable in California, but, according to Consumer Watchdog the proposal excludes crucial reforms that will continue threaten patient safety.

Under current law, the Medical Board of California is comprised of 15 members: eight physicians and seven public members. All eight professional members and five of the public members are appointed by the Governor. One public member of the Board is appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules and one public member is appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly.

The bill, SB 815,creates a public member majority on the Medical Board by adding two additional public members, a top priority of patient advocates, however advocates say the proposed law fails to mandate patients have rights in the enforcement process or receive timely information about their doctors. The legislation under consideration is the Medical Board’s sunset review bill and must be passed this year.

The bill creates a Complainant Liaison Unit at the Medical Board to interact with members of the public, but does not give people who file a complaint about patient harm rights in the enforcement process. That means, for example, the Board does not have to interview the patient who was harmed, or the loved ones of a patient who died, before closing their complaint. The bill also does not address advocates’ call for greater disclosure of doctors’ records online and in person, so patients will remain in the dark if their doctor has harmed other patients.

The bill does however propose several important reforms that patient advocates have championed and support, said Consumer Watchdog, including: Changing the balance of power on the board by giving it more public than doctor members; reducing the standard of proof in doctor discipline cases to match that used by 41 other state boards and reduce the time and cost of investigations; and increasing the doctor licensing fees that fund the Board so it can address staffing shortages and reduce case timelines that have crippled accountability.

The Board is required under current case law, (Ettinger v. Board of Medical Quality Assurance (1982) 135 Cal.App.3d 853, 856), to obtain “clear and convincing proof to a reasonable certainty.” This is a higher burden of proof than in 41 other jurisdictions throughout the U.S. states and territories, which generally apply a “preponderance of evidence’ standard.”

The proposed new law specifies that the standard of proof required to obtain an order on a statement of issues or accusation for a violation that would result in license suspension or revocation shall be a clear and convincing evidence standard and a preponderance of the evidence standard for any other violation.

And to facilitate the investigation process, the proposed law requires, when requested by an authorized officer of the law or by an authorized MBC representative, the owner, corporate officer, or manager of an entity licensed by the Board of Pharmacy to provide records within 3 days of when the request was made. And the proposal also requires MBC licensees to participate in an interview no later than 30 calendar days after being notified when the licensee is under investigation.

Under current law, MBC’s Central Complaint Unit (CCU) receives and triages all complaints. If it appears that a violation may have occurred, the complaint is transferred either to the DCA’s Division of Investigation, Health Quality Investigation Unit (HQIU), which includes sworn peace officers, or to MBC’s own Complaint Investigation Office (CIO), which is comprised of non-sworn special investigators.

Investigators investigate the complaint and, if warranted, refer the case for disciplinary action. MBC’s Discipline Coordination Unit processes all disciplinary documents and monitors cases that have been referred for formal discipline to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which serves as MBC’s prosecuting attorney.

If a licensee or registrant is placed on probation, MBC’s probation unit monitors the individual while they are on probation to ensure they are complying with the terms and conditions of probation. The Probation Unit is comprised of inspectors who are located throughout the state, housed within various field offices. Having inspectors throughout the state helps eliminate excess travel and enables probationers to have face-to-face meetings with the inspectors for monitoring purposes.

We applaud Senator Roth for proposing reforms in this bill that will increase doctor accountability, including adding two public members to the Board, but without additional changes dangerous doctors will escape investigation and patients will continue to be harmed,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.