State Medical Boards Falling Short in Protecting Public from Doctor Sexual Misconduct

Thursday, February 04, 2016
(photo: Heidi Orcino Photography via Getty Images)

By Natalie Grover


(Reuters) - Some U.S. state medical boards are not doing enough to protect the public from doctors who have engaged in sexual misconduct, consumer watchdog Public Citizen said.


Between 2003 and 2013, reports of 1,039 physicians having engaged in one or more cases of sexual misconduct were filed in the United States, of which 786 doctors were disciplined by a state medical board, according to a study by Public Citizen published on Wednesday.


However, 177 of the remaining 253 entirely escaped sanctions from a state medical board, such as the revocation or restriction of a medical license.


"It's alarming to consider state medical boards may not have pursued appropriate investigations and sanctions," said Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.


The study was based on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a nation-wide database set up under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986.


It encompassed reports received between Jan. 1, 2003 and Sept. 30, 2013 on disciplinary action taken by state medical boards, review committees at hospitals and other healthcare organizations as well as malpractice payments made by insurers on behalf of physicians.

The state medical boards, which have access to the NPDB, need to focus their attention to sexual misconduct that led to disciplinary action by healthcare organizations or to lawsuits, Azza AbuDagga, the lead author of the study, told Reuters.


Reports related to sexual misconduct accounted for just 1 percent of all reports in the NPDB, suggesting that the occurrence is underreported.


This could be because victims are unwilling to lodge complaints, given that a majority of the reported cases typically result in no punishment for the accused.


The study authors noted that different state medical boards had different track records when it came to taking serious disciplinary action.


"Some boards are better than others," AbuDagga said, adding that states including Nevada, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee seemed to have the worst track records, citing a previous study.


Penalizing doctors for sexual misconduct is crucial because such offences are intentional unlike negligence or diagnostic mistakes, AbuDagga said.


Most of the doctors with sexual misconduct reports were aged 40 or older, the study noted.


While sexual violence occurs across the lifespan, the age group of the offenders as well as the victims in this study mirror national statistics, said Toni Troop, director of communications and development at Jane Doe Inc, an advocacy coalition against sexual and domestic violence in Massachusetts.


"It is imperative that offenders be held accountable and not be allowed to hide behind their medical cloak", she said.


To Learn More:

Cross-Sectional Analysis of the 1039 U.S. Physicians Reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank for Sexual Misconduct, 2003–2013 (by Azza AbuDagga, Sidney M. Wolfe, Michael Carome and Robert E. Oshel, PLOS ONE)

State Says Doctors Don't Have to Tell Patients They Are on Probation (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Doctor Arrested as Peeping Tom for Looking out of His Own Window (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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