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Lance Rubin
Lance Rubin
Contributor •

Is Your Doctor on Drugs?

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It’s one of the most important choices you make — picking a doctor. But how much do you really know about the people who are supposed to provide your medical care?

Thousands of doctors hooked on drugs and alcohol continue to practice medicine while receiving treatment for substance abuse, yet most patients will never know about their physicians’ addictions.

How much information are patients entitled to know about their doctors? If you were going in for sugery, do you think you should be told that your doctor has an alcohol problem? Well, now you won’t be able to find out that information because a confidentiality provision protects doctors who are in drug or alcohol rehab programs.

For the past 27 years, California has had a rule keeping secret the names of doctors who are in alcohol or drug treatment programs. Of course, the California Medical Association is in favor of this rule. But things may be changing.

California’s program ends June 30. If no alternative program is adopted, the rules could revert back to the zero-tolerance policy in place before 1980, when doctors who were found by the medical board to have drug or alcohol problems were immediately stripped of their licenses.

No other state has followed California’s lead. But the president of California’s medical board, Dr. Richard Fantozzi, said that behind the scenes, regulators nationwide share his ambivalence toward such programs.

“To hide something from consumers, something so blatant … it’s unconscionable today,” Fantozzi said.

With the recent revelations about the plastic surgeon who operated on Kanye West’s mother, the question arises about how much a patient has a right to know about his doctor.

In California, medical malpractice laws protect doctors, and the most they can ever pay a patient for pain and suffering is capped at $250,000. But what is being done to protect patients to make sure they get the most information possible before choosing a doctor? Maybe after June 30, 2008, the answer will be: a little more.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.