Medical Board in California Accused of Vast Disciplinary Failures

Medical Board in California Accused of Vast Disciplinary FailuresThe medical board in California is facing scrutiny after a report recently released by the nonprofit Public Citizen accused the agency of failing to discipline 710 doctors who had been disciplined by hospitals and other healthcare facilities, approximately half of the total number of doctors disciplined by healthcare organizations in the state.

After analyzing doctors' records dating from 1990 to 2009, the nonprofit organization reportedly found more than one-third of those physicians had more than one disciplinary action taken against them by hospitals, HMO or other entities.

More than 100 of these doctors who were not disciplined by the medical board were facing serious infractions, like having their privilege to practice suspended, limited or revoked after peer reviews.

"If the hospital or HMO has taken action, why hasn't the board?" Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group, opined to the Los Angeles Times.

Additionally, Wolfe said in a Public Citizen statement that tens of thousands of California patients are facing immediate threats to health and safety "unless the California Medical Board significantly improves its record of failing to discipline those California physicians previously found by their hospitals or other places they practice."

Some of the situations identified in the report, which did not include names or workplaces, were a surgeon who made eight medical malpractice payments from 1991 to 2008 totalling $2 million, a doctor who was disciplined six times from 2005 to 2009 for an inability to practice safely, and a doctor who paid $1.9 million between 1993 and 2009 for 15 medical malpractice payouts.

In those medical malpractice suits, an object was allegedly left behind after a surgery, a patient suffered significant permanent injury, a necessary procedure was not performed or a misdiagnosis was made. Other allegations facing disciplined doctors in the report include physical impairment, alcohol or substance abuse and delivering substandard care.

More than 200 physicians nationwide were black-listed by peer reviewers as immediate threats to the health and safety of patients, stated Public Citizen, and nearly half of them practiced in California.

Since 2006, California's disciplinary rates for doctors has declined consistently according to Public Citizen. Before that year, the state's medical board always placed among the top half of states when it came to this statistic.

Jennifer Simoes, a spokeswoman for the medical board told the Times that the agency is struggling with 20 percent vacancy due to a state hiring freeze and it is trying to focus on core functions. The agency told Public Citizen that they would investigate the report's findings "when we had the resources," Simoes said, according to the news source.

However, the Los Angeles Times reports that the medical board, funded by doctor licensing fees, has been a constant source of money to help California balance the budget. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger borrowed $6 million from the board in 2008 to help fill the state's budget gap, but that money was never returned. The most recent proposed state budget allotted $55 million to the medical board, but Governor Jerry Brown wants to borrow $9 million from the agency to balance the budget.

According to the Medical Board of California, the agency's licensing program is designed to protect consumers and patients by requiring physicians to withstand a rigorous and lengthy application process. During the fiscal year 2009 to 2010, the office processed more than 6,000 applications and 1,000 were rejected. Doctors are encouraged to start the application process for licensure at least six to nine months before a license is needed.