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June 17, 1998

The Role of the Medical Profession in Physician Discipline

Author Affiliations

From the Center for Health Services Management and Research, University of Kentucky Medical Center, Lexington (Dr Scutchfield); and the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, Bayou La Batre, Ala, and the University of South Alabama School of Medicine, Mobile (Dr Benjamin). Dr Benjamin is a member of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, a Fellow of the Federation of Medical Licensing Boards, and a Member of the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners.

JAMA. 1998;279(23):1915-1916. doi:10.1001/jama.279.23.1915

This issue of THE JOURNAL includes 2 articles on physician discipline that add substantially to the knowledge base about this important, yet disturbing phenomenon. The first article, by Dehlendorf and Wolfe,1 uses a national database to examine trends and characteristics of 761 physicians who had disciplinary orders for sexual misconduct entered from 1981 through 1996 by a state or federal agency. The authors found that the proportion of all disciplinary orders taken against physicians that were sex related increased significantly, from 2.1% in 1989 (47 orders involving 42 physicians) to 4.4% in 1996 (154 orders involving 147 physicians), that 75% of sex-related offenses involved patients, and that disciplinary action for sex-related offenses was more severe than discipline for other offenses. In the second article, Morrison and Wickersham2 examine information on 375 physicians disciplined over an 18-month period by the California State Medical Licensing Agency, the Medical Board of California. Among the most frequent reasons for disciplinary action were negligence or incompetence (34%), substance abuse problems (14%), inappropriate prescribing practices (11%), and inappropriate or sexual contact with patients (10%). Taken together, these articles raise sobering questions regarding the behavior of members of the medical profession and, just as important, how to deal with and prevent these behaviors to the fullest extent possible.

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