All it takes is a patient allegation in writing.
Senate Bill 425 was signed into law by our Governor and became effective on 01/01/2020. This law requires health entities (i.e., institutions where doctors see patients) to report any allegations of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct to the Medical Board within 15 days. Only allegations made by patients are covered in this law, and the target of these allegations are licensed medical personnel, typically medical doctors.
|please don’t report me #restingcreepyface|
Given recent national-news level scandals of sexual misconduct, such as infamous Larry Nassar, it is almost expected that California will want to crank down on this form of unprofessionalism. This post was written to give the reader some context on a physician who may have been accused of sexual misconduct.
So let’s say a hospital receives a sexual misconduct complaint. The hospital will submit a special form, called 805.8 form, to the Medical Board. This form is usually completed by a lawyer as the hospital (as an employer) must balance their obligations to report with the protection of their employee’s rights (the accused doctor).
The Medical Board of California has a disciplinary unit that receives hundreds of these 805 reports per year. Most of these reports are of unprofessional conduct, negligence, or substance abuse. Only a small fraction is of sexual misconduct. The Medical Board will then conduct an investigation into the doctor, speaking with the accuser, the accused, the co-workers. This investigation typically takes 1-2 years, even for very straightforward cases.
|Physician Complaints Received from the Public (2018-2019)|
Upon completion of the investigation, the Medical Board of California will file an accusation against the accused doctor. This document is in the public domain and can be searched via the Medical Board License Lookup Website. After this step, the accused doctor and the Medical Board will reach a settlement that they can both agree upon which is usually dictated by the Medical Board.
Outcomes of the Investigation
What are the possible settlements? What punishment the accused doctor receives is based on a combination of factors. What was the charged behavior? What was the quality of the evidence? Was there a history of multiple offenses? Other factors include the current political climate of the Medical Board, including the personal biases and feelings of the elected District Attorney on duty, strongly affect the outcome of the settlement. The lightest settlement would be a public reprimand and some penalty fee. The most common settlement is a probationary license where the doctor will get their license taken away if they violate any terms of the probation. Sometimes a doctor can get a temporary suspension to get some psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to practice medicine again under a probationary license. More severe punishments include revoking the license outright. These administrative outcomes to the doctor’s license is separate from any criminal charges that may come from the action. Larry Nassar got his chiropractic license revoked and was sentenced to prison.
|Administrative Outcomes (2018 – 2019)|
In the 2018-2019 year and related to sexual misconduct, the Medical Board of California revoked 5 medical doctor’s licenses. 4 licenses were surrendered, meaning that the doctor would instead surrender their right to practice medicine rather than fight the charges. 5 licenses were placed on probation. This makes a total of 15 sexual misconduct cases in that year in the context of 472 administrative actions taken total. Sexual misconduct is actually quite uncommon in the context of a troubled doctor.
Normal enforcement process does not equal due process.
The Medical Board of California also promises one more thing to healthcare entities reporting their doctors. The Board writes:
“It is important to note that any allegation received by the Board will go through the Board’s normal enforcement process, which includes due process rights for physicians.”
I want to point out that the language of “normal enforcement process” and “due process rights” are intentionally vague. As a doctor who has gone through the probation process himself (not for sexual misconduct, though), I can attest that their “normal enforcement process” did not resemble any of my preconceived ideas of “due process” as established by the United States Department of Justice. The reason for this is because the Board is enforcing a license, not a person’s right. In other words, this enforcement process is purely under administrative law. When there is a court hearing, you have the defendant (accused doctor) attacked by the prosecutor (Medical Board) under the supervision of an administrative judge. The judge will always make a ruling at the end of the hearing. But get this, the Medical Board of California is under no obligation to incorporate the judge’s decision when enacting the administrative outcome. Don’t believe me? Ask any doctor who has undergone the process this question: “so what was the point of the hearing?” Expecting the answer, “I don’t know.”
Doctors with no game should not date patients, period.
Our society has a complicated relationship with the concept of romance. Recent movements, such as #metoo, empower women to speak up against actual sexual abuse. And they should, not nearly enough victims report abuse even as of today. Senate Bill 425 empowers this agenda, lending more weight to victims who claim abuse from doctors – a person in power. At the same time, our culture highly values romance. Almost every story-line in film, shows, and popular music is driven by romance – this drive to connect the two sexes together is universally understood. The best love stories, the ones we reminisce about, the courtships we remember most fondly, are stories of love overcoming risky or challenging barriers. The doctor-patient relationship is such a barrier and shows like “Greys Anatomy (2005)” and movies like “Something’s Gotta Give (2003)” idolizes such successful romances. What makes one doctor the object of romantic praise to be retold in film, and another doctor a degenerate deserving of punishment? Either of these doctors experience the stages of courtship: initiation, verbal exchange, physical contact. Each of these stages can be seen as either demonstration of a skilled lover or allegations of misconduct.
romantic doctor or sexual misconduct?
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