California Medical Board Strengthens Doctor Disciplinary Process After Medical Malpractice

In a substantial win for healthcare recipients, California has officially implemented a new law reforming the state Medical Board. The bill increases the Medical Board of California’s accountability and transparency requirements, places victims at the center of the disciplinary process, and should better protect patients from negligent physicians. 

Senate Bill (SB) 815 is a significant step toward a more legally accountable healthcare system. While it does not directly alter the current medical malpractice environment, it will simplify future claims and reduce the likelihood that dangerous doctors will continue to practice. Here’s what you should know about the changes, how malpractice lawsuits and medical board discipline differ, and your options now that the bill has passed. 

What to Expect From New Disciplinary Proceedings

The Medical Board of California is responsible for licensing and regulating healthcare professionals, including physicians, surgeons, residents, midwives, research psychoanalysts, and polysomnographic technicians. As part of its duties, the Board investigates patient complaints regarding the care and conduct of its licensed professionals. If it determines that a healthcare provider has violated the Medical Practice Act, it may issue a public reprimand, place the provider on probation, or revoke their license. 

While this sounds good in theory, the Board’s disciplinary proceedings lacked outside accountability and transparency in practice. There was little way for victims of medical malpractice to be heard during the process and no easy way to review the reason for the Board’s decisions. 

That’s what SB 815 is intended to fix. Some of the most important changes made by the bill include:

  • The creation of a Complainant Liaison Unit to answer questions, assist investigations and research, and evaluate public comments and concerns. 
  • The requirement that the Board interview patients for cases involving quality of care complaints. 
  • The opportunity for patients to provide statements should complaints be chosen for further review. 
  • The provision that convictions for serious felonies shall be grounds for revocation of a license without the need for expert witness testimony or a connection between the felony and the practice of medicine.
  • The expansion of the definition of unprofessional conduct to include intimidating witnesses and patients from releasing their medical records or testifying to the Board and failing to participate in investigative interviews.
  • The requirement that physicians maintain patient records for seven years after the last time they treat the patient. 

These new rules affect the entire disciplinary process. Patients now have the right to make their voices heard, giving them direct input into the proceedings. Providers are more likely to have their licenses revoked, and they may be penalized for trying to keep patients from assisting with investigations. Finally, providers need to keep patient records on hand significantly longer, providing a longer window where evidence will be available for malpractice claims. Each change makes it easier to hold providers accountable for their actions and potentially prevent them from harming others.

Medical Malpractice Claims vs. Medical Board Discipline

The changes to disciplinary proceedings raise an important question: how are medical malpractice claims and Medical Board discipline different? Both are important methods of keeping healthcare providers accountable for their actions. However, the two have some important differences regarding how they impact patients who have been harmed. 

The biggest difference is the focus of the proceedings. The Medical Board disciplinary proceedings are administrative, not civil lawsuits or criminal cases. They are intended to determine if the provider has violated the California Medical Practice Act. This includes behavior like providing substandard care, unprofessional conduct, inappropriate prescribing, and unlicensed practice. The goal is to determine whether the provider should be permitted to continue practicing medicine. While causing harm to a patient can be grounds for a complaint, that is just one potential reason of many. 

In contrast, medical malpractice claims are intended to help victims of negligent care receive compensation for the harm they’ve suffered. They are civil lawsuits against providers who have hurt patients because they violated standards of care. Malpractice may include prescription errors, surgical mistakes, and failure to diagnose or treat. The goal is to determine if the healthcare worker harmed the patient and award damages to compensate them for their losses. All malpractice claims against healthcare professionals the Board licenses are grounds for disciplinary investigations.

To summarize, malpractice claims allow you to seek damages but may not prevent the provider from continuing to treat patients. In contrast, Medical Board complaints may lead to the revocation of the provider’s license but will not lead to damages. 

Should You File a Malpractice Claim or a Medical Board Complaint?

If you’ve been harmed by a negligent healthcare professional, you may wonder whether you should file a complaint or a malpractice claim. Answering the following three questions with the guidance of a skilled attorney may help you decide:

  • Did you suffer material harm? Medical malpractice claims require you to prove that you suffered a loss. This can include physical, mental, and economic harm. You may not be eligible to file a lawsuit if you were not harmed, but you can still file a complaint. 
  • Who was responsible? All healthcare professionals and institutions responsible for providing you with care can commit malpractice. However, only professionals licensed by the Board may be subject to Board discipline. If you have been harmed by a nurse, CNA, or other professional, you can still file a malpractice claim. However, you must determine their licensing organization and submit any additional complaints there. 
  • When did the incident occur? There is a strict two-year statute of limitations on malpractice claims in California. However, if the limitations period has expired, you may still file a complaint with the Board.

If a negligent healthcare worker has harmed you, you should always talk to an experienced attorney like those at the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC. We will review your case to determine whether you have a medical malpractice claim. Schedule your consultation to learn more about how our Los Angeles law firm can help you hold neglectful physicians accountable for hurting you.

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