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Should Doctors Have to Tell Patients If They're on Probation?

Would you want to know if your doctor was on probation? Would it make a difference in how you received that expert's recommendations? Patients' rights activists think so and are disappointed that this week a California bill was nixed by the senate that would have required doctors to tell patients if they're under state supervision in an easy-to-read one-page document.

The information is already available online, but some say it's not easy to access. Still, California senators rejected legislation making individual disclosures a requirement, reports KQED News. Let's look at what was proposed and why it's controversial.

The Proposal

The legislation proposed to inform patients of the probationary status of a small pool of physicians. Doctors with convictions for gross negligence, sexual misconduct, substance abuse, or a felony related to patient care would have to let patients know this information up front in a clear written document. If it had passed, this bill would have applied to physicians, chiropractors, podiatrists, and acupuncturists.

The proposal seems to have some merit. Shouldn't patients know if the people they trust their bodies to have a suspect past, and one that requires continued supervision?

Probationary terms exist so that people convicted of crimes, who are a potential risk but not so much they have to be imprisoned, can be supervised for a time. During that time they must show that they fulfill all the requirements, which might mean taking anger management classes, counseling, addiction treatment, and any number of other possible terms ordered by the court.

The Controversy

The bill was controversial because opponents say it violates due process, punishing physicians in addition to the conviction. The California Medical Association opposed its passage, saying it created a de facto suspension by severely restricting physicians' ability to practice. They also noted that information about doctors' offenses is already available on the internet.

Some said they opposed the bill because it forced doctors to publicize unproven allegations. Senator Richard Pan, a Sacramento pediatrician, said he voted against the legislation for this reason.

But that reasoning fails to recognize criminal procedure. A doctor who is on probation has already been convicted either after making a plea deal or standing trial, so the case has been proven to the extent that due process demands.

That misunderstanding is why patients' rights advocates believe that they can still win if the bill is reintroduced. Lisa McGiffert, manager of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, told KQED, "We believe [the senators] have been misled in some ways." The bill was sponsored by Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo, whose office told reporters that he has not yet decided whether to propose it again.

Injured?

If you've been hurt due to the negligence of a healthcare practitioner, or anyone else, talk to a lawyer. Tell your story. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

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