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Doctors Sanctioned for Sex Offenses Still Practicing

June 16, 1998

Doctors Sanctioned for Sex Offenses Still Practicing

Hundreds of Physicians Disciplined for Sex Offenses Involving Patients

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hundreds of doctors found guilty of sex-related offenses against their patients have been allowed to continue to practice, says a report from Public Citizen’s Health Research Group published tomorrow in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The report studied 761 physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses and found that 75 percent of them (567) committed offenses against their own patients. “These violations include rape, sexual molestation and trading drugs for sexual favors,” said Christine Dehlendorf and Dr. Sidney Wolfe, authors of the study.

The study also found that physicians disciplined for sex offenses are often allowed to practice with minimal and often unenforceable safeguards, such as having a chaperone present during examinations or having another physician monitor patient records. “Almost 40 percent of doctors disciplined for sex offenses before 1995 were still licensed to practice in March 1997,” said the authors.

The specialties of psychiatry, child psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, and family and general practice were all significantly over-represented among the doctors disciplined for sex offenses. Although the number of physicians disciplined has increased from 42 in 1989 to 147 in 1996, recent studies show that the real number of offenses is likely to be much higher than those
reported, say the authors. The rate of discipline by state boards for sex-related offenses varied widely from 3.3 MDs disciplined per 1000 MDs to 0 MDs disciplined per 1000.

“The number of disciplinary actions taken against doctors is extraordinarily low compared to estimates by physicians themselves of the real number of sex-related offenses they commit. Many guilty doctors are escaping any sanction at all,” said Dehlendorf and Wolfe.

The report recommends that agencies responsible for regulating physicians be given the authority to protect the identities of victims during the investigation and hearing process. It also suggests that patients should be encouraged to protect themselves by knowing their rights and by filing complaints with their state medical boards if their physician behaves inappropriately. Another recommendation is that all sexual contact between any physician and a patient be criminalized.

In March 1998, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group published 16,638 Questionable Doctors, the only publicly available comprehensive national list of doctors disciplined by state medical boards or other agencies for offenses ranging from incompetence to criminal convictions.