News outlets across the country have repeatedly exposed cases of sexual (and other kinds of) misconduct by doctors. But despite these revelations the medical profession hasn’t worked to understand the pervasiveness of doctor sexual abuse or to take key actions that could better protect patients, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found in a new investigation of its own.
Here is a look at some of the many and prominent previous investigations.
For years, the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Health Journalism ran a blog by journalist William Heisel called Antidote: Investigating Untold Health Stories. The blog published a series called “Doctors Behaving Badly,” which uncovered and discussed medical malpractice and failures by medical boards to sanction doctors.
The Boston Globe
In 2012, the Globe wrote about the lack of transparency by the Massachusetts medical board. The investigation found that, after 10 years, the board removed information about malpractice and disciplinary actions, even criminal convictions, from the state’s physician profile database.
The Chicago Tribune
In 2010, the Tribune highlighted Illinois physicians who committed sexual misconduct and explained how state regulators allowed them to continue practicing. The series led to a state law that required revocation of doctors’ licenses for certain sexual offenses.
Connecticut Health Investigative Team
In 2010, the nonprofit C-HIT wrote about how health professionals, including doctors, were allowed to continue in practice in several Northeast states despite serious disciplinary issues. Its work focused on Connecticut and compared its discipline to that by boards in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. “Some of the doctors who have been sanctioned in other states have promptly relocated to Connecticut, with no restrictions on their licenses,” their reporting found.
The magazine periodically conducts transparency audits of medical board websites. In April 2016, reporters looked at doctors on probation in California after a debate arose in the state about whether patients should be notified when their doctor is on medical probation for violations such as drug abuse, sexual misconduct and medical errors.
In 2015, “Ailing Oversight” revealed that some Hawaii doctors were able to practice for years after their license was revoked or suspended in another state. The series pointed to Hawaii’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office as the source of slow investigations and lack of state intervention.
In 2012, this news magazine found that Michigan doctors who crossed ethical boundaries with patients typically received mild penalties. The reports uncovered a number of violations, including numerous sexual offenses.
The Kansas City Star
In 2011, “Bad Medicine” focused on secrecy in the Kansas and Missouri medical communities and the malpractice payments that doctors make to keep their licenses clean. The special report highlighted federal records, court documents and narratives of unknowing patients.
The Los Angeles Times
During the past decade, the Times has reported on issues with California’s medical board and hiccups in disciplinary actions. The paper has tracked legislative actions surrounding the board’s powers and spotlighted physicians who have been accused of sexual misconduct and prescription fraud.
This health research and consumer advocacy group — not a news organization, in fact — published a study in PLOS ONE in February 2016 about physician sexual misconduct. Researchers found that only 1,039 physicians were reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank for sexual misconduct that led to sanctions or malpractice payments during the past 10 years.
As part of the analysis, the group noted, “interestingly,” that state medical boards didn’t take action against two-thirds of physicians with sanctions or malpractice payments. In 2002, the group also released the names of 6,700 “questionable doctors” in 12 states who were disciplined by medical boards for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions and ethical lapses. Most of the doctors were still practicing.
In 2015, reporters focused on New Jersey doctors who resumed practice despite evidence of serious ethical concerns. In one case, a doctor was restricted from being alone with girls over age 10 or asking patients to remove their underwear during exams. Another doctor was re-licensed after serving time in prison for sex crimes against female patients. A third doctor pleaded guilty to sexual contact with three female patients — and was allowed to see male patients only.
The Seattle Times
In 2006, Seattle reporters looked at sexual misconduct by health care professionals in the state between 1995-2005 and created an extensive online database of offenders. The series sparked changes in state regulations and landed on the list of 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalists for investigative reporting.
The Washington Post
In 2005, the Post ran a three-part series about state medical boards and found that doctors with well-documented alcohol and drug problems were often given repeated chances to practice. Addicted doctors rarely faced license revocation. Although medical boards issued sanctions, doctors often moved to another state by the time they were scheduled to take effect.