National Investigation Exposes America’s Doctor Sexual Misconduct Problem
Earlier this month, a nationwide investigation by a Georgia newspaper uncovered a serious problem that the healthcare industry is facing with disciplining doctors. Doctors are a unique case when it comes to enforcement. The nation has a shortage of physicians and they are too valuable to our country for medical boards and agencies to simply discard their license when there are offenses. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s (AJC) investigation, however, reveals that sexual misconduct among doctors in our nation is more pervasive than we thought.
A Broken System Forgives Sexually Abusive Doctors in Every State, AJC Finds
On Wednesday, July 8, 2016, the AJC released the results of a national investigation which analyzed more than 100,000 medical board orders relating to disciplinary action against doctors since 1999. The AJC launched its national investigation a year ago after reaching a surprising finding in Georgia: two-thirds of the doctors disciplined in the state for sexual misconduct were permitted to practice again. The results of their sweeping nationwide investigation were equally unnerving:
- More than 3,100 doctors were publicly disciplined since January 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions.
- More than 2,400 were sanctioned for violations that clearly involved patients.
- Of the 2,400 doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct, half still have active medical licenses today.
“Many of the thousands of doctors who sexually abused patients have been allowed to continue practicing medicine, shielded by physician-dominated medical boards and other agencies that are supposed to discipline those who do wrong,” the newspaper reported.
“This tendency on the part of medical boards and medical officials to err on the side of a quiet suspension or a secret, out-of-court deal, that’s a recipe for disaster,” said David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP, in the newspaper. “Crimes are crimes, no matter who commits them. They need to be reported and investigated by and prosecuted by the independent professionals in law enforcement. Period.”
Doctor Background Checks After the AJC’s Investigation
The AJC’s yearlong investigation found more than 2,400 U.S. physicians were sanctioned for sexual abusing their patients. With such a high prevalence of sexual misconduct, hospitals and other healthcare employers must have an effective criminal background check program to protect their patients and staff. Federal sex offender searches should be part of a background check program. While not every medical board has the authority to conduct background checks on doctors as part of the licensure process, this study shows that employers need to do their own vetting rather than relying on medical boards and agencies.
Leanne Diakov, General Counsel for the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, said medical boards have to consider everything from the state’s need for physicians to the limits imposed by state law. “It’s always a balance,” she said in a statement in the newspaper.
Medical boards and agencies can be very forgiving when disciplining doctors in sexual misconduct cases, according to the AJC investigation. As healthcare employers, however, having a physician background check policy can help mitigate risk by helping you find the best qualified candidate for your organization.