Last month, at an emotional hearing in Sacramento and on the op-ed page of the San Francisco Chronicle, we called for the state agency that oversees doctors to become a stronger regulator or to go out of business. The Legislature has to renew the doctor-run medical board every ten years, and that’s this year. Sacramento apparently agrees with us.
After an emotional outpouring from families who lost their loved ones to dangerous doctors, and thousands of emails from Californians, the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly Business and Professions Committees sent a message. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that chairs Curren Price and Richard Gordon have written the medical board to state that they will not reauthorize the board unless it commits to major changes.
This is a big and important step toward strong patient protections in this state. The California Medical Association has for too long stymied real change for patients in the Capitol, and now Gordon and Price have upped the ante by acknowledging the depth of the problem for patients.
Three important areas need to be reformed, as Carmen Balber and I outlined in the San Francisco Chronicle op-ed:
A true overhaul of physician discipline would move complaint investigators into the attorney general's office to work hand in hand with prosecutors and would create a public-member majority on the medical board.
Real reform should also include mandatory random drug testing of high-risk surgeons and physicians – as is mandated now for bus drivers, college athletes and pilots.
Finally, the state's 38-year-old limits on the rights of injured patients need to be revisited, too. It's time for the public to take the power back for itself.
The movement is afoot, and we have taken another step toward greater patient safety. Stay tuned. Momentum is building but we still have a long march ahead.