With imperfect screening system, Ohio State unaware of doctor’s sexual assault allegations

Doctor pausing with a frown on his face
Existing credentialing and privileging systems can cover up past allegations made against physicians. (Getty/Wavebreakmedia)

When Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center hired a former Cleveland Clinic surgeon last summer, it had no idea the doctor had been accused by two patients of sexually assaulting them when he worked at the prestigious Cleveland facility.

Ohio State has since placed the doctor, Ryan Williams, M.D., on paid administrative leave after it learned of the allegations from a USA Today reporter who was preparing an investigative report. Now Ohio State is doing its own investigation and trying to decide what further steps to take.

RELATED: When sexual misconduct charges against doctors make headlines, organizations need to react quickly

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The Williams case is an example of how the system to screen and credential doctors can miss sexual assault allegations made against a physician, according to an article by The Plain Dealer.

Williams was never charged with a crime and denies the allegations. The Cleveland Clinic reached a confidential settlement with one of the patients who said she was raped and who filed a civil case against the doctor and the organization. 

The fact that Ohio State never knew of the allegations when it hired Williams demonstrates the flaws of existing disciplinary, legal and hiring systems, the Plain Dealer reported. Even when accusations of physician sexual assault are reported to police or employers, they may not be part of a doctor’s employment record or show up in the National Practitioner Data Bank, a database that hospitals check as part of their credentialing and privileging process.

The actions that would raise a red flag include formal disciplinary action by an employer or medical board, action on a medical license, criminal charges or a malpractice payment.

The USA Today investigation found that hospitals have covered up sexual misconduct by doctors by reaching confidential settlements with patients, including the case at the Cleveland Clinic. Following the USA Today report, a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman told FierceHealthcare the hospital immediately reported the accusations to appropriate law enforcement agencies and cooperated fully with the investigations.

In a strange twist, Ryan Williams’ identical twin, who is also a doctor, was also accused of sexual assault against female patients. Bryan Williams, a former anesthesiologist and pain management specialist in Maryland, had his license permanently revoked last month by the Maryland State Board of Physicians after seven patients accused him of sexual assault. Bryan Williams was a doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Largo and Kensington, Maryland, and was fired in October 2014.

In both cases, the hospital systems that employed the two doctors are accused by patients of failing to respond to protect other potential victims.

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