Oct 5, 2021 - Health

Texas Observer: Medical boards allowed abusive doctors to treat patients

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Texas doctor accused of inappropriately touching 17 female patients had then been told by a medical board to only treat men before being reported for assault by a male patient, an investigation by the Texas Observer found.

Why it matters: Medical boards that oversee doctors across the U.S. have used this loophole of curbing the types of patients predatory doctors are allowed to see rather than revoking their licenses, experts in the report said.

State of play: The male patient who called the police on the Austin-based neurologist in 2015, struggled for years to report the doctor's gropes and inappropriate advances, knowing he'd then be cut off from his prescriptions.

  • No charges were filed by the Travis County District Attorney's Office, however. The law at the time was that only penetration counted as sexual assault.

Context: Medical boards have made the case that removing a problem doctor from their practice is more difficult if there's no conviction. When charges were filed or police investigations were opened, the victims in these cases were not believed against their doctor's word.

  • Several women beginning in 2001 came forward with their accounts saying this doctor had made inappropriate sexual advances when conducting exams. Only one victim testified, however, where the defense ruined her credibility in various ways. The doctor was acquitted.
  • "Sexual assault cases against doctors are further weakened by the fact that medicine involves inspecting the body and helping it function," the Observer's Olga Khazan writes. "A doctor's appointment is one of the few times in adulthood when a stranger might see someone naked or touch their genitals."

The big picture: The Observer's investigation revealed that more than 40 medical providers were accused of coercing their patients for sex in exchange for opioid medication in the past five years.

  • A 2020 analysis by the Austin American-Statesman concluded that most of the 80 Texas doctors found to have engaged in sexual misconduct in the past five years have been allowed to keep their licenses.

Where it stands: In 2018, the Texas Medical Board did revoke the neurologist's medical license, citing both his overprescribing of opioids and his alleged sexual misconduct.

  • The doctor petitioned the board to reinstate his license but was unsuccessful. 
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