States fail to protect patients from physician sexual abuse

Legal cases

All of the country’s 50 states get a failing grade when it comes to protecting patients from physicians who have engaged in sexual misconduct.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has published a series of articles in an ongoing look at doctors and sex abuse, undertook an examination of all 50 states and found that only a few have anything close to a comprehensive set of laws to protect patients, according to the newspaper’s latest report.

RELATED: Newspaper investigation puts spotlight on physician sexual misconduct

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The newspaper judged each state based on five categories of laws to determine the best and worst at protecting patients from sexually abusive doctors. None met the highest bar in every category, the newspaper said. Instead, multiple gaps in laws leave patients vulnerable to doctors who have engaged in sexual misconduct.

“Instead of looking out for victims or possible victims or protecting our society, we’re protecting doctors,” Rep. Kimberly Williams, a Democrat and member of the Delaware General Assembly who sponsored a patient-protection bill last year, told the Journal-Constitution. You can find a map and rating for each state on the newspaper’s website.

In its examination, the newspaper looked at state laws that speak to factors such as the duty to report doctors suspected of misconduct, the power to revoke licenses, who serves on the medical licensing board, and transparency of information on doctors. State medical boards make it surprisingly easy for doctors accused—or even convicted—of sexually abusing their patients to keep practicing, the newspaper previously reported.

When it comes to protecting patients, Delaware ranked highest with a score of 91 out of a possible 100. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming scored below 50.

The shortcomings in the laws explain how a Georgia doctor, described by a prosecutor as “the pimp with a prescription pad,” regained his medical license after serving time in a federal prison for exchanging prescription drugs for sexual favors from patients. The doctor had more than 400 sexually explicit photos of female patients and other women in his office, according to the newspaper.

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