Old news, but there was a new California law passed in 2019 that mandates California physicians to disclose their probation status to patients. Medical doctors who have entered probation before July 1, 2019, are exempt from this rule, so only ‘newish’ probationers will do the disclosing. As time moves forward from that July, more and more California patients will get this kind of notification. This post is written to help you gather more information about the doctor who is disclosing to you. It’s effortless, so follow along!

Step 1: Don’t panic! 

Physicians occupy a respectable stratum in our society, so they are expected to behave accordingly. But doctors are humans too. It is a fact that humans have strengths and weaknesses, good and bad, happy times, and hard times. Just because we discover a negative quality of a person should not automatically trigger us to disregard them. Like all other decisions made from the emotion of fear, ditching your doctor because of a probationary license may not necessarily be the best decision for you. What should you do instead? Gather more information!

Step 2: Look the doc up! 

Find the Medical Board of California Online License Search. This is how healthcare consumers such as yourself verify the legitimacy of any professional licenses overseen by the State of California. You can type “MD License Lookup” on your google search bar. Even more straightforward, use this link: https://www.mbc.ca.gov/Breeze/License_Verification.aspx

Step 3: Scroll down until you see a blue rectangle.

Click on the link “Search by Name or License Number.” See the included photo as an example, the giant red arrow tells you what to click.

Step 4: Input some search parameters.

You should now be on a page that looks like this.

Boards and Bureaus: should show “Medical Board of California

License Type: should show “Physician’s and Surgeons’s” 

The rest of the boxes should contain specific information relevant to the doctor you are looking up. The most efficient way to search is by using the MD’s license number. If you don’t have that, an adequately spelled first and last name is typically sufficient.

Step 5: Make sure you have the right licensee selected.

If you searched by name, make sure you have the correct doc selected! Use the city and zip code if you have to.

Step 6: Read over the results. 

At this point, you have the profile of your doctor’s medical license. “License Status” should always say “License Renewed & Current” if they are legitimate. If the doctor is under disciplinary probation status, it would be reflected under “Secondary Status.” In this example, this doctor’s secondary status indicates “Probation” and “Limits on Practice.”

example of a doctor on probation

Note: The description of what these disciplinary statuses mean is given on this page, but keep in mind that these descriptions are generic. It does not provide any specific details about the doctor. Worse, when you call the Medical Board of California to inquire about, you will likely get a generic response from an overworked officer as well.

Using this doctor as an example, “Limits On Practice” is displayed. What kind of limits are we talking about? Is this doctor within limits today? We don’t know! I happen to know the guy in this example. His only practice limit is that he cannot own a solo medical practice. This stipulation has nothing to do with the medical care of a patient. Yet, it is announced in a way that suggests otherwise.

Step 6: Click on the name to dig deeper. 

This is the only way to get specific details about your doc. You may want to spend a few minutes to digest the information you find here. The circumstances leading up to the disciplinary action, and the consequences the doctor has to face should be described here.

In the 2018 to 2019 year, the Medical Board of California placed 158 physicians under probation status. 56.3% of these probationers are accused of incompetence (or gross negligence). The next highest group is 15.8% of docs who are accused of abusing drugs or alcohol. 12.6% of probationers are accused of inappropriate prescribing. Other reasons leading to doctors being placed on probation include unprofessional conduct, sexual misconduct, and mental illness

Discussion: How do you feel about California Senate Bill No. 1448 mandate for probationary action disclosure?

I think giving consumers more information to make a rational choice can be a good thing, but forcing information on a consumer is not the same thing. A doctor’s probationary status has always been in the public domain. Still, the healthcare consumer would have to make an effort to seek it out. This means that patients who is interested in discovering a physician’s disciplinary status already has access to that information. Patients who do not care about the probationary status would not bother looking up. I can’t really think of good advantage to our society by forcing the knowledge of disciplinary action to patients who do not really care in the first place. In fact, I will argue that it is detrimental to patients. It erodes the value of the doctor-patient relationship. A physician needs to be in a place of objective authority to influence a patient therapeutically. Forcing disclosure of probationary status distracts the patient-doctor relationship from this ideal. It introduces uneasiness on both the doctor and patient, negatively affecting how the clinical relationship progresses.

Under this new law (bill 1448,) the State of California sends two conflicting messages to the healthcare consumer. It issues a valid medical license and says to the consumer, “this person is worthy of being your doctor” and simultaneously saying, “actually, maybe this person is not worthy of being your doctor” by mandating a disciplinary disclosure. The message is confusing and antagonistic to patient care.