Our letter to California governor on failings of state medical board is getting attention

A letter we sent to California Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday about the need to improve the state’s medical is kicking up quite a storm in that state.

The Los Angeles Times published a really thorough piece, as did the Associated Press. California Health Line picked it up, as did Kaiser Health News. We’ve been getting more calls today from radio stations and other outlets that want to cover the matter.

We told Brown that the state of California has become delinquent in disciplining doctors with documented poor records. We urged the governor to take the necessary steps to correct the dangerous shortcomings of the state medical board.

According to our analysis, California’s state medical board has failed to take disciplinary action against 710 physicians in the state, all of whom were disciplined for wrongdoing between September 1990 and the end of 2009 by California hospitals, health maintenance organizations, ambulatory surgical centers and other health care organizations. What’s more, 102 of those doctors were designated by peer reviewers as an “immediate threat to health or safety” of patients.

The 710 doctors represent about half of the doctors disciplined by California health care organizations in the time period Public Citizen studied. A full 35 percent of the 710 were repeat offenders.

Some of the other violations include delivering substandard care, wrongly diagnosing surgical patients, improperly leaving surgical equipment in a patient, alcohol or other substance abuse, and physical illness or impairment. We’re not talking minor infractions here. Said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group:

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 to present an immediate threat to health or safety, tens of thousands of California patients are at risk of being injured or killed by these doctors.”

In Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, California used to place among the top half of states when it came to disciplining doctors. But since 2006, the rate at which doctors were disciplined has consistently dropped. In Public Citizen’s 2011 analysis, California ranked 35th in the nation, 41st in 2010.