One doctor was punished by the Texas Medical Board amid allegations that he sexually molested three young girls. Another was accused of grabbing women’s breasts and giving them unnecessary vaginal exams while they were under anesthesia. Another doctor, a neurologist, was accused of groping at least a dozen women.
But rather than put them out of business, the medical board allowed all three to keep their licenses.
Between 1999 and 2016, three out of four doctors punished for sexual improprieties with patients were allowed to continue working as physicians, according to an analysis of Texas records by the Austin American-Statesman.
Medical board officials take issue with the Statesman’s findings, saying the list of doctors the newspaper provided to the board includes vastly different allegations that aren’t in the same class.
“We think it is misleading to group all of these cases together regardless of offense,” said spokesman Jarrett Schneider. “There are very different and varying degrees of boundaries issues addressed in this list, ranging from a physician making an inappropriate remark to sexual assault.”
Medical board officials say it’s difficult to take stronger action against doctors who have been acquitted of sexual offenses in court. Witnesses are often unwilling to testify, and a lack of evidence makes it hard to determine whether a violation occurred, Schneider said.
Among the newspaper’s findings:
• Of the approximately 200 doctors disciplined, about 50 lost their licenses. Of the remaining 150 who were allowed to keep working as physicians, about half continue to practice today. Many are no longer working in Texas because they died, retired or are practicing in another state.
• The medical board lets some doctors with criminal records for sexual offenses keep their licenses. A Houston doctor who pleaded guilty to several counts of injury to a child continues to practice, for example.
• Medical board orders can be so vague that the average reader would not have a clear idea of what the doctor did wrong. In one order, the medical board wrote that “some patients expressed discomfort with the examination techniques” used by a pediatrician. But a different state document provided more details: allegations were that doctor of had kissed an 11-year-old on the lips and inappropriately touched the breasts of two other women.
• Boundaries and ethics classes are routinely used to punish doctors who cross the line, but some physicians continue to cross the line.
The records also show that each case is different. Some of the doctors were disciplined for dating patients, for example, while others groped or made unwanted advances on patients in their care.
The number of victims, the frequency of violations, the type of abuse, the rehabilitation potential of each doctor, whether substance abuse was involved: state documents show that all of those factors play into how severely — or lightly — an accused physician is penalized.
Less detailed medical board orders are the result of mediated settlements between the board and physicians, Schneider said. But the details of the dispute can often be found in formal complaints filed with the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which are also posted on the Texas Medical Board’s website, he said.
Meanwhile, boundaries and ethics classes are generally used in cases in which there has been no physical contact with a patient, Schneider said.
No matter the circumstances, the medical board’s president, Dr. Michael Arambula, says the organization is devoted to keeping patients safe and uses all the tools at its disposal to do so.
“The Texas Medical Board takes very seriously its mission of public protection,” he said.
The Statesman’s analysis was done in conjuction with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a fellow Cox Media Group newspaper publishing an extensive investigative report on sexual abuse by doctors across the country. The investigation, “Doctors & Sex Abuse,” found that 3,100 physicians have been publicly disciplined since Jan. 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual behavior with patients.
For this report, the Statesman read more than 200 board orders detailing the accusations against doctors and the punishments they received. The paper also reviewed documents from the State Office of Administrative Hearings, a state agency that conducts hearings in which administrative law judges review the case.
See Sunday’s American-Statesman for the full story.