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When and How to Report Doctor Misconduct

As hard as I try to be the best version of myself possible, I sometimes disappoint myself. It’s safe to assume that everyone has moments they’d like to replay or forget entirely. Humans aren’t perfect. And that includes doctors. It goes without saying that doctors aren’t perfect. Therefore, doctors can make mistakes or behave rudely. And some of them even break the law. Have you ever thought you doctor didn’t behave appropriately? When and how should you report doctor misconduct?

What is doctor misconduct?

Doctor misconduct is when doctors provide substandard care or behave unethically or unprofessionally. Misconduct ranges from improper diagnosis, medication errors and surgical mistakes to physical and/or sexual assault.

Recently we all heard about the sexual misconduct of the USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and USC’s gynecologist George Tyndall. Even though these high profile cases got the attention they deserved, doctor misconduct is often unchallenged and unreported.

How common is doctor misconduct?

It’s hard to know exactly. Although many patients never mention misconduct to any authorities, surveys show the issue is fairly common. The Harris Poll, in conjunction with the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), surveyed US adults in October 2018. Of the 2,018 responses, 409 (18%) reported experiencing doctor misconduct. But only 128 (33%) reported the interaction or filed a formal complaint. Interestingly, the survey found men are more likely to file a complaint than women.

Your age, gender and location matter.

The survey found noteworthy differences in the likelihood of experiencing doctor misconduct:

  • Women are twice as likely as men to experience misconduct (24% vs 12%).
  • Patients between the ages of 18-34 and 55-64 are more likely to experience misconduct as compared to those 65+ (22% and 20% respectively, versus 12%).
  • 28% of women between 18-34 experience misconduct, compared to 16% of men between 18-34.
  • Patients in the South and Midwest are more likely to experience misconduct, as compared to those in the Northeast.

Why is it important to report doctor misconduct?

image of person using megaphone with word important - report doctor misconductCertainly, the proper reporting of doctor misconduct is essential to help the appropriate agencies protect patients. If these agencies and organizations don’t hear of incidents, it’s impossible for them to investigate, take appropriate action and notify the public.

Where can you report doctor misconduct?

If you report the misconduct to the doctor’s office, group or hospital, you may receive an apology and an offer of help, which is great. But it’s also important that a regulating agency receive the information so they can take appropriate steps. Therefore, consider filing a complaint at one (or more) of these agencies/organizations:

State Medical Boards – to report concerns about a doctor’s unprofessional and/or incompetent behavior.

Your state’s Attorney General office – to report issues including patient abuse and neglect.

Medicare.gov – to report improper care or unsafe conditions, and for complaints about a doctor or hospital.

Joint Commission – to report safety concerns, such as medication errors and healthcare acquired infections.

Quality Improvement Organization – to report issues such as inadequate treatment and improper treatment, including medication or surgical mistakes.

State Health Departments – to report adverse medical events, poor hospital conditions and healthcare associated infections.

How can you find out if your doctor has a history of misconduct?

photo man on laptop - report doctor misconductCertainly, we’d all like to know if our doctor, or a potential doctor, has a history of misconduct. Obviously, no one wants to go to a doctor with a history of sexual assault, or to a doctor with several claims of medical malpractice against him/her. Although knowing a doctor’s disciplinary history is important, only 27% of respondents to the FSMB survey reported they know how to find out about a doctor’s disciplinary history.

Fortunately, you can find a lot of information online. But beware that not all misconduct is reported and recorded. So, consider the information you find a starting point. And trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right about the way your doctor treats you, or if your doctor makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably time to find a new doctor.

Where can you find this information? See the Zaggo resource page for a list of websites you can use to research doctors (and hospitals).

California takes a stand.

California recently became the first US state to pass a law relating to disclosure of misconduct. Their “Patient’s Right to Know Act” requires doctors to tell patients if they have been “placed on probation for sexual misconduct, drug or alcohol abuse, inappropriate prescriptions or criminal convictions that involve harm to a patient”. Since this issue can impact all of us, let’s hope other states follow suit.

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