Time to End Physician Sexual Abuse of Patients: Calling the U.S. Medical Community to Action
Despite the strict prohibition against all forms of sexual relations between physicians and their patients, some physicians cross this bright line and abuse their patients sexually. The true extent of sexual abuse of patients by physicians in the U.S. health care system is unknown. An analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank reports of adverse disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards, peer-review sanctions by institutions, and malpractice payments shows that a very small number of physicians have faced “reportable” consequences for this unethical behavior. However, physician self-reported data suggest that the problem occurs at a higher rate. We discuss the factors that can explain why such sexual abuse of patients is a persistent problem in the U.S. health care system. We implore the medical community to begin a candid discussion of this problem and call for an explicit zero-tolerance standard against sexual abuse of patients by physicians. This standard must be coupled with regulatory, institutional, and cultural changes to realize its promise. We propose initial recommendations toward that end.
KEY WORDSmedical board sexual abuse sexual misconduct National Practitioner Data Bank zero tolerance
All authors take responsibility for the integrity of this perspective: All authors conceived it; AbuDagga prepared the first draft; and AbuDagga, Carome, and Wolfe critically revised it. The authors thank Fiona Lynn, MPS, managing editor of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, for her work on editing this article, and thank Dr. Robert E. Oshel (Retired Associate Director for Research and Disputes, Division of Practitioner Data Banks, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) for his in-kind contribution to their work on physician sexual abuse and for reviewing early drafts of this perspective.
Funding was provided by Public Citizen Foundation.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.
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