House passes bill on physician sex abuse

Patients could get new protections from sexually abusive doctors under legislation approved Friday by the Georgia House.

House bill 458 would require the state’s physicians, medical students and medical licensing board members to be trained on physician sexual misconduct and professional boundaries. Doctors would also be required to report other doctors who have sexually abused patients. In addition, the legislation would specifically authorize the Georgia Composite Medical Board to revoke or suspend a license if a physician is found guilty of sexually assaulting a patient in a criminal case.

The board itself would be required to report on its handling of sex abuse cases, including indicating how many cases were handled through private actions hidden from the public.

“This is an important step forward to protect patients in Georgia,” said Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, a co-sponsor, who had advocated for similar legislation for several years. “I’m very pleased it passed the House.”

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The bill, approved in a vote of 131-27, now goes to the Senate. Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, is the bill’s lead sponsor.

In 2016, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s prize-winning Doctors & Sex Abuse series exposed a broken system that forgave sexually abusive doctors in every state. The series, which uncovered thousands of cases, was launched after the AJC found that two-thirds of the doctors disciplined in Georgia for sexual misconduct were permitted to practice again.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board asked for the legislation that was approved Friday as part of a national effort by the Federation of State Medical Boards to better protect patients from sex abuse. That action was prompted by the AJC’s reporting, the #MeToo movement and cases of abuse by physicians that received national attention, said Dr. Alexander Gross, a dermatologist and member of the Georgia medical board. Gross served on the FSMB panel that developed the new guidance and strongly supports the bill.

“The public needs to understand that the board is committed to making sure that we protect them — that’s what our mission is,” Gross said. “This law will be a tool to help us do that.”