Only 1,354 Doctors Reported to a National Flagging System Over 15 Years for Sexual Misconduct

More Than a Third of Such Doctors Continued to Practice

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Only 1,354 doctors – 0.2% of U.S. doctors – have been reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) due to sexual misconduct over 15 years, an alarmingly low number compared to findings from a nationally representative survey of doctors and other sources, a new Public Citizen report released today found.

The NPDB is the nation’s only comprehensive repository of information on medical malpractice payments, adverse licensing actions taken by state medical boards and certain clinical-privileges actions against incompetent or impaired doctors.

Public Citizen found that from 2003 through 2017:

  • 38% (510) of the 1,354 doctors whose misconduct was flagged continued to hold active licenses and clinical privileges in the states where they were disciplined or had malpractice-payment reports;
  • At least 19% of the doctors who had licensing actions, and at least 17% of those with malpractice payments related to sexual misconduct, had multiple victims. Moreover, at least 37% of those with clinical-privileges actions related to such misconduct had multiple victims, and 20% had “a history or a pattern” of such misconduct;
  • The majority of flagged doctors had only patient victims, and 27% of those with clinical-privileges actions had only nonpatient victims – primarily employees in the organizations where these doctors worked;
  • 17% of the doctors with licensing reports, 14% of doctors with clinical-privileges reports and 50% of doctors with malpractice-payment reports related to sexual misconduct, had patient victims with certain vulnerability factors, including mental illness or being a minor; and
  • Physical sexual contact or relations, including “inappropriate touching during an examination or procedure” and “rape” – and nonspecific sexual misconduct, including “boundary violation” or “harassment” – were the two most common primary forms of misconduct perpetuated by these doctors against their victims.

Especially egregious, of the 317 doctors who had clinical-privileges actions or malpractice-payment reports because of this misconduct, 221 (70%) were not disciplined by any state medical board for their harmful behavior.

The report also includes numerous examples of doctors who sexually abused their patients or others. These cases were derived from nonpublic narrative summaries obtained by Public Citizen from sexual misconduct-related NPDB reports.

In one case, a special needs minor patient was repeatedly molested over four months by a psychiatrist. The victim received a malpractice payment of $256,000, but the psychiatrist received no licensing or clinical-privileges discipline.

In another, a doctor had a sexual relationship with 11 patients while treating and prescribing them controlled substances (such as opioids). The doctor was ordered to complete only 10 hours of continuing education before entering into a five-year contract with a medical foundation, where he also received voluntary treatment.

The report updates a 2016 Public Citizen study finding that only 1,039 doctors were reported to the NPDB for sexual misconduct over a 10-year period. For decades, Public Citizen has pushed state medical boards to do a better job of disciplining problem doctors.

“The paucity of doctors held into account for abuse, and how state medical boards and health care organizations deal too leniently with abusive doctors by prioritizing the interests of these doctors over patient safety, show patients are still put in danger,” said Dr. Azza AbuDagga, health services researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and lead author of the report.

“We renew our call for the medical profession, lawmakers and state medical boards to implement a zero-tolerance standard against sexual abuse of patients, as has been adopted by other parts of the world, including the province of Ontario in Canada and New Zealand. Failing to do so means that medical boards and health care organizations continue to fail the public,” added AbuDagga.

Read the full report here.