10 years of discipline data from the Medical Board of California shows a relationship between race and professional license discipline outcomes, so reports the California Research Bureau.

Having conducted the research at the behest of the Medical Board of California (Board), the Research Bureau looked at the discipline imposed by the Board from 2003-2013. The Research Bureau analyzed 125,792 physician records and 32,978 complaint records to look for any evidence of disparate treatment for minority physicians in the Board’s disciplinary outcomes. Its research concluded:

  • Latino/a and Black physicians were both more likely to receive complaints than other races.
  • Latino/a and Black physicians were both more likely to see those complaints escalate to investigations than other races.
  • Latino/a and Black physicians were both more likely to see those investigations result in discipline than other races.
  • Asian physicians had a reduced likelihood of receiving complaints than other races.
  • Asian physicians had a reduced likelihood of seeing complaints escalate to investigations than other races.

While the Research Bureau conceded it was unable to prove racial bias conclusively, the results indicate some evidence of disparate treatment for minority physicians in the Board’s disciplinary outcomes. 

In order to evaluate the relationship between physician race and disciplinary outcomes, the Research Bureau conducted two sets of statistical tests for each step in the disciplinary process. Although limitations with the study – i.e. noticeable differences in patterns, generally, in the functioning of the professional license discipline process based upon the identity of the Board's executive director, participation of members in the disciplinary panel, etc. –  prevented the Research Bureau from providing a definitive answer, the Research Bureau was able to control a number of other variables and remove statistical noise to draw the above correlation between physician race and the pattern of complaints, investigations and discipline.

The Board, itself, announced the release and thanked the Research Bureau for its efforts. In response, the Board has indicated the following:

The Board takes the disparities highlighted in the [California Research Bureau]'s report very seriously and is taking aggressive and proactive steps to investigate them, including:

  • Convening a Task Force of Board Members to review the report and deliver specific recommendations on how best to proceed. 
  • Conduct a review of existing complaint, investigation, and disciplinary processes to better understand the institutional and procedural issues that may have contributed to the disparities outlined in the report.
  • The Board will review the Task Force's recommendations and determine the next steps to implement the recommendations.

The Board expects to receive the recommendations and additional insight and advice on the review of the existing complaint, investigation, and discipline process from the Task Force at its next scheduled Board meeting. The next scheduled Board meeting is April 27-28, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA.