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Should doctors have to tell patients if they're on probation?

Each year, there are more than 8,000 complaints lodged against physicians for misconduct at the Medical Board of California. With the number growing annually, patients are complaining that they are unable to figure out easily if their doctor has been disciplined for serious infractions.

Now, lawmakers are considering measures to help curb complaints and ease the process of informing patients if their doctor has acted inappropriately or committed a grievous offense, including mandating that doctors disclose if they are on probation for a serious disciplinary offense, according to the Sacramento Bee

A small number, under examination

Of California's 141,900 licensed physicians, about 635 (0.4%) are on probation for misconduct, with offenses ranging from over prescribing addictive drugs to working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. With the current system in place, patients can review their doctor's disciplinary record on the board's website or by contacting its 800 number. However, critics are saying that this system is too cumbersome, and too dependent on patients being diligent with their research.

This week, the Medical Board of California is up for a review again, and lawmakers are raising this issue. 

Currently, doctors accused of misconduct can enter into an agreement that would allow them to see patients while on probation. Probation, which can last between three and 10 years, typically has other requirements, including taking additional courses in ethics, counseling, or even mandating the presence of chaperones during patient visits. 

But some lawmakers are still concerned that patients aren't properly informed of their doctor's misconduct.

The California Medical Association has previously opposed mandatory patient notification, saying it would interfere with patient care and be an unnecessary and duplicative burden. However, this year, the Association is working with Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas on a bill that would bar the board from placing physicians who have committed serious infractions on probation, eliminating the notification problem at the root.

The board is expected to hear changes and suggestions soon as it gears up to receive legislative approval once more.  

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