Sacramento, CA – Patients will have a greater voice in investigations into harm caused by a doctor under legislation California lawmakers sent to the governor Thursday evening. However key reforms were stripped from the medical board bill that would have further strengthened patient safety and doctor oversight in California.
SB 815 by Senator Richard Roth (Riverside) will: Require the Medical Board of California to interview a patient before their complaint of harm at the hands of a doctor is closed; create a complainant liaison unit to facilitate information sharing between injured patients and the board; and allow patients or their family to make an impact statement to the board before discipline is issued.
Injured patients and the families of those lost to medical negligence have spent years calling for these changes. The effective date of the interview and liaison unit, however, was delayed.
“I would like to thank the medical board for listening to advocates and the legislature for ensuring that families now have a voice in the enforcement process,” said San Jose patient advocate Maria Ibarra Navarrette. “Had these requirements already been in place, my brother’s case would have had a different outcome and more patients would have been protected.” Learn more about Jose Ibarra.
Still, significant patient safety reforms were stripped from the bill last week and over the past several months in the face of opposition by the doctors’ lobby, said Consumer Watchdog. Those changes include: Reducing the burden of proof for doctor discipline to match that used in 41 other states; giving the board a public, not doctor, member majority; and an increase in licensing fees to $1350 every two years to keep the board’s lights on. The bill as sent to the governor will increase fees to $1151 in 2023 and $1250 in 2027.
“Although I am disappointed that important changes like lowering of the burden of proof was removed from this bill, I am not going anywhere and we will continue to fight for improvements and rights for families,” said Alka Airy, patient advocate from San Francisco.
Two years ago, the legislature delayed substantive reform of the enforcement process and board operations by appointing an Enforcement Monitor to make recommendations. The Monitor’s final report was not released until last month and its recommendations – including the need for direct coordination between investigators and prosecutors and mandatory investigation of all death complaints – are not reflected in SB 815.
A remaining gap in the bill is increased disclosure, said Consumer Watchdog. Patients in California currently have no right to know when they walk into a doctor’s office if the Medical Board is investigating, has charged, or has disciplined their provider for causing a patient’s injury or death. Even criminal charges are not disclosed to patients before a medical appointment.
“Injured patients who have petitioned the board and legislature for years have won a real seat at the table for families harmed by medical negligence with this bill. We urge the governor to sign it. While there is more work to do to keep the public safe from dangerous doctors, SB 815 will give patients a voice in doctor discipline and is worth celebrating,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.