Before going to the doctor or having surgery, patients are told to do their research. We took that advice and discovered why it is so easy for doctors who behave badly to hide.
We went to the California Medical Board in Sacramento for answers in this KSBY News Investigation, but first the back story.
A Central Coast man filed a lawsuit in February against a Templeton doctor.
"I lost my wife, my best friend," Michael Picard of Paso Robles said, who sued his wife's doctor for her death. Court documents accuse the doctor of ignoring the woman's post-surgery infection and she died in her sleep.
We originally set out to find out how many other local doctors were being sued for alleged medical mistakes. What we found is that information is hard to find. It is not even on the California Medical Board's website.
"Their website is called 'Breeze' and it's not a breeze. It's very difficult meander," said Eric Andrist who co-developed the Patient Safety League after he said medical errors killed two of his family members.
He has made it easy to look up doctor's who have been accused or charged of medical negligence on his website: www.4patientsafety.org.
"People can come, find their doctor on our website, and they can very succinctly look at what the charges are against them," Andrist said.
In the past fours years, the medical board has taken action against the licenses of 40 doctors in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. The accusations range from over-prescribing medications to sexual misconduct. It took KSBY's Carina Corral a half hour to compile that list from the Patient Safety League's website.
We then asked the California Medical Board for the same information.
The Public Affairs Office said it would take two weeks and cost $130. Corral requested that information a week ago, but is still waiting for a response.
We were also given instructions on how to look it up ourselves. After an hour of sifting through hundreds of pages of legal documents, penal codes and spreadsheets, we had only gotten through a handful of doctors.
"I don't know how they expect an average person to get through that and find the information they're looking for," Andrist said.
We went to Sacramento to ask the California Medical Board about the concerns regarding its website.
Public Affairs Officer Carlos Villatoro said they want patients to be informed. "We do have a lot of information on our website. The point of that is that we want people to read the disciplinary orders and the accusations and all of the documents," he said.
But not all questionable or even illegal actions are listed.
A local radiologist, Richard Berg, was arrested for soliciting prostitution. He pled no contest in June of 2015 and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a year of probation. A year later he petitioned the court to have the charge dismissed, which was granted. Because of this, it's not listed anywhere on the medical board's profile of him.
It is listed on 4patientsafety.org.
"If a patient is looking in to their radiologist, that seems like that would be something they would want to know?" Corral asked Villatoro.
"There are records that are available that aren't on the physician's profile page and this may or may not be one of those," he replied.
Also not listed, complaints against doctors.
There were 11,000 complaints filed with the board in 2018; however, complaints against contractors are made public on the on the same consumer affair's website.
"So if you want to look up your bathroom contractor you can find out if they have a complaint against them, but you can't find out if you're going to go in and get life saving surgery," Andrist said.
And going back to what initiated our investigation, when we asked the board for malpractice reports on local doctors we were told it would cost $745, names not included.
"Another way a consumer can find that out is if they went to their local courthouse," Villatoro said.
Andrist accuses the board of protecting doctors and not patients.
It denies the claim.
"When a physician violates any part of the Medical Practice Act we go and investigate and take appropriate action when needed," said Villatoro.
"People accuse us of being doctor haters. And we are totally not. We really admire really good doctors, but there are too many bad doctors that are harming people," Andrist said.
The board has taken steps to make it easier to understand actions taken against physicians by creating an app and email alerts.
It also states it now lists the terms of a doctor's probation at the top of their profile pages; although, none of the local doctors we looked up included this information.
Corral asked Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham if this is an issue he thinks needs attention. His office said the window has closed for introducing legislation this year, but perhaps next year.