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Sexual Misconduct Rules in Place for Physicians

Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 12:03 PM

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State regulators have drawn up rules to clarify what amounts to sexual misconduct by physicians. While the Ohio State Medical Board punishes a handful of doctors every year for sexual misconduct, it has never before had rules stating what the term means. ideastream's Elaine Falk has more.

Perhaps the most high-profile sexual misconduct case in Ohio was in 1997 when a Toledo pediatrician’s license was suspended for sleeping with at least six of his patients’ mothers. The case gained national attention and the doctor tried to fight the suspension, on the grounds that no specific state policy banned the relationships. Despite the case, no rules were put in place by the Ohio State Medical Board at that time.

Then, eight years later, in 2005, several Cincinnati women accused their physician of sexual misconduct. They enlisted the help of State Representative Steve Driehaus to pressure the Medical Board to create misconduct rules. Sallie Debolt is the Board’s Executive Staff Attorney.

Sallie Debolt: Ohio was one of the only states in the union that didn’t have any specific language that addressed sexual misconduct of licensees. And that’s ironic, because the Medical Board of Ohio has been in the forefront of disciplining physicians.

Debolt says the Cincinnati case wasn’t the catalyst, but it was one of many that were considered as the board crafted its rules. The new rules define any behavior that exploits the physician patient relationship in a sexual way. This includes: asking a patient for a date, disrespecting a person’s privacy when they’re undressing, and failing to allow a third person or chaperone in an exam room during intimate exams.

Dr. Patrick Catalano is the Chair of the Department of Ob/Gyns at MetroHealth Medical Center. He says the rules don’t go beyond guidelines his department has already had in place for their doctors.

Patrick Catalano: When I look through it, I didn’t see anything that was particularly new or anything that we hadn’t already been doing. They all seemed to be common sense.

The board says at this time there are no plans to post the rules in doctor’s offices. That troubles Terena Deters, one of the women involved in the Cincinnati case. She calls the new regulations bittersweet because for her they came too late. She’s concerned that some patients may not know about the rules, or that they are entitled to a chaperone.

Terena Deters: I think it does happen more than we know and it just goes unreported, so hopefully having a chaperone will stop these from happening to begin with.

The new sexual misconduct rules take effect today.

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