Yearlong investigation finds 2.4k+ physicians sanctioned for sexually abusing patients: 8 things to know

Practice Management

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted a yearlong investigation which found more than 2,400 U.S. physicians were sanctioned for sexual abusing their patients.

AJC analyzed more than 100,000 disciplinary documents and other U.S. records to isolate the cases which potentially involved sexual misconduct.  


Here are eight things to know:


1. AJC opted to begin its investigation after learning of a statistic where the state of Georgia allowed 66 percent of physicians disciplined for sexual misconduct to practice medicine again.


2. AJC interviewed various disciplined physicians who had different responses to the sexual misconduct sanctions. While some felt their patients unfairly targeted them to receive money from a lawsuit, others argued their actions were "brief lapses in judgment."


3. AJC's investigation found state medical board permitted more than 50 percent of the sanctioned physicians to keep their licensees, despite the accusations being proven true.


4. Investigators identified more than 3,100 physicians who were publicly disciplined since January 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions. Of those cases, more than 2,400 physicians were sanctioned for violations involving their patients.


5. Leanne Diakov, general counsel for the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, said medical boards have a balancing act in such cases — they have to weigh the state's need for physicians as well as various state laws' limitations. Kentucky law gives physicians with licenses revoked by the medical board legal right to petition for reinstatement two years after the decision.


6. State laws regarding disciplining physicians for sexual misconduct vary in terms of severity. In Minnesota, 80 percent of physicians who were publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct were allowed to return to practice medicine, starkly higher than the aforementioned Georgia statistic.


7. The AJC uncovered various cases where multiple patients accused the same physician of sexual misconduct. One case involved 17 patients alleging one physician engaged in sexual misconduct. While the state medical board initially stated the complaints were credible and revoked the physician's license, the board later changed its stance after the physician was acquitted in one patient's criminal trial case. The physician continues to practice medicine without restriction.


8. Some states discipline physicians in private, including Georgia who often uses private consent orders and private agreements. Robert Jeffery, executive director of the state medical board told AJC, "Sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf." Mr. Jeffrey told AJC he meant sometimes boards are concerned a public order may not be enough to sanction a physician if that physician fights the order.


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