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Why are Doctor Sex Abuse Cases So Difficult to Discover?

In a groundbreaking investigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) researched more than 100,000 medical records, documents, medical board orders, and other related reports to determine how many Americans have been harmed by sexual abuse from their doctors and medical practitioners. They were able to identify 3,000+ physicians who had been officially sanctioned since 1999. But the researchers are concerned that this is only a fraction of the actual cases they wanted to uncover, and that the problem is rampant in all 50 states.

Professionally Hiding the Evidence

The AJC found it difficult to research doctor sexual abuse cases because it appeared that the system was stacked against the patients and plaintiffs. Through loopholes and strange policies, many medical boards seemed to be making conscious efforts or decisions that made hiding the evidence of sexual misconduct simple. The argument could be made in some cases that covering up offenses was actually encouraged.

Some of the reasons why sexual abuse cases are often covered up include:

  • Private penalties: Disciplinary actions, when they were enacted against physicians, were often kept private, rarely leaving the clinic where the offense took place. This is likely due to a medical board’s embarrassment and fear of public backlash.
  • Records removed: Most states only require medical boards to publically display notices of sexual misconduct disciplinary actions for four or five years. The notifications would appear in small print on websites, use vague language like “inappropriate contact,” and then get deleted.
  • Impaired physician programs: If a doctor admits to having a problem with sexual addiction or abuse, they can volunteer for an impaired physician program. Originally developed for doctors with drug addictions, an impaired physician program will eliminate any possibility of being disciplined by their medical board.
  • Dropped investigations: Sexual abuse case investigations can be entirely dropped if the accused doctor surrenders their license to practice willingly. While this may remove them from the profession, sometimes permanently, it allows them to dodge any legal penalties, such as restitution paid to victims, since the investigations will be incomplete.
  • No legal obligation: When a sexual abuse claim does make its way to a medical board, many states have no laws in place that require the board to notify the authorities. This allows them to handle the investigation and punishment on their own, often opting to give a doctor a “slap on the wrist” and nothing more.

The end result is thousands of doctors who have been sanctioned for sexual abuse still practicing across the country. The AJC even found instances where a doctor would be barred from practicing in one state, move to another, and start practicing there because the two state medical boards shared no information with one another.

For more information regarding this ongoing scandal and investigation, you should visit the ACJ’s official website with several articles on the matter. If you live in Ohio and have a medical malpractice case of your own, call 614.321.3212. At Rourke and Blumenthal, our Columbus medical malpractice attorneys are known throughout the state for our compassion, experience, and knowledgeability. Contact us today to learn more.