MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Are state medical boards doing enough to protect patients from doctors with sexual misconduct history?
An expert told WMC Action News 5 there are several reasons why that has been called into question in recent years.
A former patient, who doesn’t want to be identified, shared an encounter she had with her Desoto County gynecologist, Dr. Gregory Norwood.
She says during exams Norwood touched her inappropriately and insisted on taking photos of her.
“He made me undress from the top to the bottom and I didn’t understand,” the woman said. “Why would I have to undress from top to bottom and get a breast exam and everything if something was going on down below?”
The woman says Norwood then began taking pictures of her with a phone.
“And I’m saying to myself, is he fixing to do some research or something?” the woman said.
She’s not the only patient who said they had issues with Norwood. Several women came forward over two years, claiming he abused them.
After a deal with prosecutors, Norwood pleaded guilty in October to just one count and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Before he was convicted, Norwood lost his license in Mississippi and Tennessee.
But an expert says her research has shown medical boards don’t discipline every doctor accused of sexual misconduct.
“The problem is unfortunately nationwide,” said Azza AbuDagga, a health services researcher for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.
AbuDagga is also one of the authors of a 2016 nationwide study that sexual assault accusations against health care providers.
The report discovered that over 10 years, 70 percent of the 253 doctors sanctioned by a hospital or other health-related organization for sexual misconduct were not disciplined by their state medical board.
“Just because of the limitations that the boards have they cannot investigate every case,” said AbuDagga.
Medical boards may not even know about every doctor accused of a crime.
For instance, a 2015 Tennessee comptroller report found the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners hadn’t provided court clerks with forms, as required by state law, so they could immediately notify the board when a doctor received a criminal conviction.
The inspectors wrote, “We were unable to find evidence confirming that court clerks are aware of or compliant with the criminal conviction notification requirements…the lack of direct reporting from the court system retains a risk that the board may not become aware of a criminal conviction of a licensee.”
The comptroller’s report also found other state medical boards were slow to share important information with Tennessee officials.
In one case, the comptroller discovered information about a licensee who was disciplined in Virginia wasn’t immediately conveyed to Tennessee officials.
As a result, it took Tennessee two years to discipline that licensee.
The comptroller’s report also cited Public Citizen’s finding that many prosecutors were unaware of the requirement to report criminal convictions to state medical boards and that “there is significant under reporting as a result.”
In response to the comptroller's report in 2015, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners promised to fix the criminal conviction reporting issues.
The board did not respond to WMC's request, asking for a progress report.
AbuDagga says medical boards also tend to focus on rehabilitating doctors and she worries who might be slipping through the cracks.
"They can come back from drug abuse. They can come back from alcohol abuse and some of the work we've done (shows) they believe they can come back from sexual abuse," said AbuDagga.
The American Medical Association, which represents 250,000 doctors nationwide, said in a statement, "Rooting out instances of unethical or illegal behavior within the medical profession is a vital job of the state-run system of physician oversight and regulation. To stamp out misconduct in the practice of medicine, the AMA continues to call on state legislatures to provide the resources that state regulators need to investigate allegations in a fair and timely manner and hold unethical physicians accountable."
The unfortunate thing is that even when doctors like Norwood are publicly disciplined and convicted of sexual assault, the patients who accused them may feel they’re serving a sentence as well -- one that lasts a lifetime.
"I can never see myself going to another male OBGYN again," said Norwood's former patient. "I just can't. I'll never have that trust again."
LOOK UP YOUR DOCTOR
Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas each provide online resources patients can use to look up the background of their doctors.
Critics say while the information is sometimes limited, it’s better than nothing.
Tennessee Department of Health’s online portal lets you verify a doctor’s credentials. In addition to viewing their educational background and certification, you can see any adverse actions that have been taken against the doctor. The board will often post accompanying documents outlining actions it took, as well as actions taken by other medical agencies and hospitals, if applicable.
Mississippi also has an online portal to help patients learn more about a doctor’s background and certification. Documents are also posted detailing actions taken by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure against the doctor.
Arkansas State Medical Board’s online portal doesn’t provide as many details as Tennessee or Mississippi. However, you can verify the status of a doctor’s license. You may have to request a copy of the orders the board took.