Context.— Physicians who abuse their patients sexually cause immense harm, and,
therefore, the discipline of physicians who commit any sex-related offenses
is an important public health issue that should be examined.
Objectives.— To determine the frequency and severity of discipline against physicians
who commit sex-related offenses and to describe the characteristics of these
Design and Setting.— Analysis of sex-related orders from a national database of disciplinary
orders taken by state medical boards and federal agencies.
Subjects.— A total of 761 physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses from
1981 through 1996.
Main Outcome Measures.— Rate and severity of discipline over time for sex-related offenses and
specialty, age, and board certification status of disciplined physicians.
Results.— The number of physicians disciplined per year for sex-related offenses
increased from 42 in 1989 to 147 in 1996, and the proportion of all disciplinary
orders that were sex related increased from 2.1% in 1989 to 4.4% in 1996 (P<.001 for trend). Discipline for sex-related offenses
was significantly more severe (P<.001) than for
non–sex-related offenses, with 71.9% of sex-related orders involving
revocation, surrender, or suspension of medical license. Of 761 physicians
disciplined, the offenses committed by 567 (75%) involved patients, including
sexual intercourse, rape, sexual molestation, and sexual favors for drugs.
As of March 1997, 216 physicians (39.9%) disciplined for sex-related offenses
between 1981 and 1994 were licensed to practice. Compared with all physicians,
physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses were more likely to practice
in the specialties of psychiatry, child psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology,
and family and general practice (all P<.001) than
in other specialties and were older than the national physician population,
but were no different in terms of board certification status.
Conclusions.— Discipline against physicians for sex-related offenses is increasing
over time and is relatively severe, although few physicians are disciplined
for sexual offenses each year. In addition, a substantial proportion of physicians
disciplined for these offenses are allowed to either continue to practice
or return to practice.