Georgia has concluded a year-long review of physician sexual misconduct cases brought to light by an Atlanta newspaper with a plan to educate doctors.
The state's plan focuses on educating doctors, rather than seeking new patient protections as some states have done, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Two-thirds of Georgia physicians disciplined for sexually violating patients were permitted to practice again by the Georgia Composite Medical Board, an investigation by the newspaper revealed. The board announced last year that it would review its handling of those cases. But instead of producing a comprehensive report, the board recently released a one-page statement.
The board vowed that it will protect patients from Georgia doctors who "use coercion or power for sex" by educating doctors about the importance of reporting colleagues. It also said it would investigate all allegations and involve law enforcement when appropriate; and that it will discipline doctors with public consent orders and license revocations when allegations are proven.
The board did not call for any changes in its rules or in state law even though the state lacks key patient protection measures, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Among the gaps: Georgia has no law requiring doctors to report possible violations by their fellow doctors, nor is the medical board legally required to notify law enforcement of potential criminal acts.
Doctors across the state would be notified through a mass mailing that complaints of sexual abuse or "boundary violations" involving patients will be investigated and taken seriously, said Dr. John Antalis, the board chairman.
Antalis, a Dalton family practitioner, acknowledged that the process isn't significantly different than the approach taken by the board in recent years. But he said the board and the public are now more aware of the problem and that awareness will make a difference.
"We have a good system now to handle these things when they come up and hopefully by educating we can let these physicians know this won't be tolerated by the board," Antalis said.
But Helen Robinson, director of advocacy for YWCA of Greater Atlanta, said the board should consider a number of specific changes to better protect patients. Her recommendations included training for medical board members by a group that works with sexual assault victims as well as more transparency about the board's use of private orders in sexual abuse cases.
Robinson also said the board should require doctors on probation for sexual misconduct to notify patients and to tell them if, as a result of infractions, a chaperone is required to be in the room.
Patients would also benefit, she said, if the governor's office appointed a strong consumer advocate to the non-physician seat that has been vacant on the board for nearly a year. Robinson also called on the state legislature to increase the percentage of non-doctors on the medical board and require all those applying for a physician's license in Georgia to undergo a criminal background check - something most states already demand.
In its series Doctors & Sex Abuse, the Atlanta newspaper exposed a system in which medical boards, hospitals and law enforcement across the nation have long tolerated sexual misconduct by physicians. In Georgia, the newspaper found, nearly 100 doctors have been publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct since 1999 and others have received private disciplinary orders.