An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 2,400 doctors who have been sanctioned for sexual misconduct involving patients since 1999. The paper also suggests the actual number of violations was likely much higher.
The report joins recent efforts by the Safe Patient Project and a recent Public Citizen report published by PLOS One aimed at shedding light on a “culture of secrecy” and a tendency among state medical boards to fail to discipline physicians, even after they were sanctioned by hospitals or other healthcare organizations, according to previous reporting by FiercePracticeManagement. The Atlanta newspaper's investigation, which began with the Georgia Composite Medical Board, looked at public records from all 50 states, which means its numbers cannot account for violations that either did not reach state regulators’ attention or those in which the boards failed to discipline a physician.
The newspaper notes that while the majority of the 900,000 licensed doctors in the country do not sexually abuse their patients, the actual number of cases remains unknown for a number of reasons:
- Much of the time, organizations or individuals simply fail to report sexual misconduct, according to the newspaper article. In some cases, medical authorities have historically relied on doctors to self-report, in others, hospitals or practices fail to do so, or neglect to conduct due diligence during the hiring process.
- According to the investigation, parts of the healthcare industry’s reporting system are purposely opaque. Medical boards sometimes deal with cases via private letters of concern or confidential agreements that never lead to formal sanctions, for example. Doctors also have opportunities to avoid public sanctions by entering into “impaired physician” programs or similar confidential recovery processes, says the newspaper.
- Even where records exist, regulators from most states told the newspaper they could not provide details on why doctors received sanctions, forcing investigators to rely on public orders, which are sometimes too vague to identify their cause, or, in some states, not publicly available at all
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