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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business

Years ago I opened a letter from the California Medical Board announcing a complaint against me.

The days when state boards went easy on doctors are long past. In response to persistent criticism, California has joined others in raising license fees, hiring investigators, and issuing press releases boasting of doctors it has disciplined. Every month I receive a bulletin announcing license revocation, suspension, or some humiliating probation. These doctors seemed sad cases: incompetent, alcoholic, dishonest without being clever. Was I about to join them?

Although Los Angeles is the largest city in California, my hearing took place in Diamond Bar, thirty miles east, and it was a gloomy drive. The investigator ushered me into a room where I sat opposite him at a long table, bare except for the evidence. He told me the name of my accuser who turned out to be a competing hotel doctor. We had never met.

The investigator held up a pill box labeled with my handwriting. Later, when I looked up the name on the box, I discovered it was a guest I’d seen a few months earlier. My rival had visited her, noticed the box, and realized it offered an irresistible opportunity.

I carry dozens of medications in little boxes. Handing them out, I once wrote the name of the patient and instructions for taking the pills. This violated California State Pharmacy laws, the investigator informed me. Whenever anyone (not only a pharmacist) gives out a prescription drug, its container must include the patient’s name, the date, the drug’s name, dose, quantity, expiration date, and instructions plus the doctor’s name and contact information. For violating these laws, he added, the board would levy a fine and issue a written reprimand. This was not, however, an offense that endangered my license.

The reprimand announcing my three hundred dollar fine duly arrived. For months I scanned the bulletin, dreading to read my name, but my offense apparently didn’t qualify. It also never appeared on the California Medical Board’s web site when I checked for transgressions.

You can check any California doctor at http://www.medbd.ca.gov/Lookup.htm. Other states have a similar arrangement.

Obeying the pharmacy law required a great deal of writing on that tiny box, but I went along. As for repaying that doctor for the dirty trick, my only recourse was to continue setting foot in his hotels. If this gnawed at him as much as learning of trespassers bothers me, it was vengeance enough.

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