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Proposed California Law Would Inform Patients When Doctors Are On Probation

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California legislators have proposed a new law, which seeks to require doctors tell patients when they have been put on probation for bad behavior, such as professional misconduct, or when they face sexual assault accusations. 

On August 8, the State Assembly appropriations committee held a hearing on SB-1448; the Patient Right To Know Act. If passed, the law would be the first of its kind in the country.

California State Senator Jerry Hill has introduced the bill three years in a row, and it has failed to move forward twice before. However, some observers think that may change amid a number of high profile sexual assault controversies involving doctors in California and other states.

The bill would require doctors to disclose if they have been placed on probation by the state’s medical board, how long that probation will last, what the restrictions are, and how the patient can find out more information on the nature of the probation. The doctor would have to get the patient, or the patient’s guardian or health care surrogate, to sign a copy of the disclosure.

The proposed law makes exceptions for cases where the patient is unconscious or the interaction occurs in an unscheduled emergency room or urgent care visit setting.

In addition, the legislation calls for the state medical board’s website to post the probation status on the doctor’s profile page, as well as the reason for the probation and it’s length and end date. The site would list all practice restrictions, as well as some information on probations that result from a legal settlement, such as causes where the doctor admitted guilt and a statement that the settlement itself is not an admission of guilt.

“Information regarding many physician licensees’ probation status is already available on the board’s website,” the Appropriation Committee bill analysis (PDF) states. “However, there is a belief that the majority of patients will not proactively research their practitioner prior to a visit.”

The bill may be gaining steam this time around, as it comes amid the scandal enveloping the University of Southern California (USC), where former gynecologist George Tyndall has been accused of sexually assaulting female patients for decades before resigning last year.

One of Tyndall’s alleged victims, Audry Nafziger, testified to the committee that she had no reason or indication not to trust Tyndall, who she says ordered the nurse out of the room and molested her. Nafziger is now a sex crimes prosecutor in Ventura County, working directly with witnesses in sex crimes, who are often reluctant to testify.

Tyndall was allowed to retire in June 2017, and to date faces no criminal charges, despite dozens of claims that he assaulted female patients, and made both sexually suggestive and racist comments for years.

While USC indicated that it could find no evidence of criminal conduct, the University has acknowledged that Tyndall’s behavior was unacceptable, and should not have been tolerated for so long.

The pattern of USC student sexual abuse was only addressed by the university after a nurse, frustrated with the lack of response to numerous complaints, took the issue to the campus’s rape crisis center. That led to an investigation of Tyndall, along with a suspension of his duties, and eventually a deal between Tyndall and USC that culminated in his retirement.

The University only reported his activities to the California Medical Board in March, after Tyndall contacted USC indicating that he wanted his job back. However, the complaints date back to the early 2000’s.

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