A common question posed to patients in their doctor’s office is, “Do you feel safe? Is there anyone in your life that is hurting you?” But what happens when it is the actual doctor who is causing harm? Unfortunately, studies have shown that this does happen, and takes multiple forms. Physicians in every state have been accused of sexual misconduct, and some are getting away with it, despite the American Medical Association’s (AMAs) zero tolerance policy of any sexual conduct of a physician toward a patient or former patient.
A Vulnerable Situation
People go into their doctor’s office already vulnerable, which can make the impact of sexual violence and abuse hit even harder. Many patients feel embarrassed by these incidents, and it is estimated that nearly 90 percent are not reported. Instead, patients might internalize their experience, which could lead them to neglect all preventative healthcare. The Center for Disease Control Reports that some patients who have experienced this develop problems with substance abuse or suffer from various psychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep and eating disorders. In the worst cases victims may attempt suicide.
Who to Tell?
Many of those who do want to make reports aren’t quite sure how to go about it. Reports of misconduct are supposed to be filed with the National Practitioner Database, but even after reports many physicians continue to practice medicine. State websites sometimes contain the information, but many of these are poorly designed and difficult to navigate. There is also little sharing with law enforcement agencies and limited reporting of incidents in the media. It’s possible that greater transparency would lead to higher levels of reporting and decrease stigma about the whole experience.
Where to Draw the Line
It is possible that some patients could leave an appointment and wonder if what feels wrong at the time was actually just the doctor doing their job. They second guess themselves and wonder if the potential consequences are worthy of their claim. With such a low rate of reporting overall, there is a good chance that if one person has left a doctor’s office feeling violated, there are others that feel the same way. A good malpractice lawyer can investigate each individual incident to help determine what the damage might be, potentially compensate the patient, and help to make healthcare a little safer for everyone.