Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Could Your Doctor Be A Sexual Predator?

It is scary to think about but, could your doctor be a sexual predator?  According to an investigation conducted by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, doctors who sexually abuse patients are protected from disclosing their pasts to their other patients. This means that people who trust their doctors may be receiving treatment from someone who might be a sexual predator. The issue is that no state requires doctors who are on probation for sexual abuse or other abuse with patients to inform their other patients about their records. The California legislature had a proposed bill before it that would require this disclosure to be made. If it had passed, California would have been the first state with such a requirement. The bill was killed on the Senate floor in June 2016, however.

The secrecy of the disciplinary system for doctors

The problem is national in scope. Four states do not post any disciplinary records for physicians online, and nine of the states erase the posted information in as few as five years. In 21 states, some misconduct cases involving doctors are handled secretly instead of in public, meaning the public has no way of knowing that their doctors have been disciplined.

The investigation

The Atlanta Constitution-Journal examined thousands of hearing documents from medical disciplinary boards across the country. It found 2,400 doctors who had been disciplined for sexual misconduct involving patients. Of those, 50 percent still had their medical licenses and were practicing. 

Most medical boards do require doctors to disclose being placed on probation with the state's medical board to the hospitals at which they have admitting privileges. They are similarly required to inform their medical malpractice insurance carriers. No state requires such disclosures to their patients, however, leaving consumers largely in the dark.

The proposal

California Senate Bill 1033 would have required doctors who were disciplined for sexual misconduct involving patients to inform their patients. The bill was made inactive on June 2, 2016, effectively killing it. Medical lobbyists had hotly contested the proposed bill. Opponents of the legislation argued that the bill would treat doctors unfairly, potentially forcing some to report fabrications or unsubstantiated allegations that the doctors were unable to defend themselves against before the medical boards.

Lobbyists claim that some doctors agree to accept probation rather than having allegations against them publicly aired. A majority of those who are placed on probation are required to have their patient interactions supervised by an observer who remains in the room while the doctor is meeting with patients during the probationary period. Disclosure is still not mandated, however.

California's BreEZe system

California has an online database listing doctors who have been disciplined called BreEZe. The system is difficult to use to find information about doctors, requiring people to search through multiple entries and pages before finding information about sexual misconduct. 

In one case reported by the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, an Orange County psychiatrist by the name of Michael Knight who was placed on probation for sexual misconduct with patients, including kissing one and allegedly forcing himself sexually on another, is currently on probation until 2020 while still practicing medicine under supervision. When the newspaper looked through the state's BreEZe system to locate the information about him, it found that it took finding the state's medical board website, clicking a link on it, finding the doctor's name, determining which doctor among those with similar names was the correct one and scrolling through to a second page at the bottom to finally find a link to disciplinary records. The paper reported that the information containing any mention of the sexual misconduct allegations against the doctor didn't appear until the third page of the disciplinary document.

Getting legal help

People need to have a trust relationship with their doctors. It is important for consumers to be able to trust that their treating medical professionals have been screened and are competent and professional. Unfortunately, patients may simply not know when their treating doctors or nurses have been disciplined for sexually abusing patients, potentially exposing them to abuse themselves. People who have been victimized by medical professionals may want to contact a personal injury attorney in California who has experience with civil sexual abuse cases committed by medical doctors. Contact an injury attorney for a consultation.