The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Investigation Finds Medical Licensing Laws Protect Doctors, Not Patients

Thursday, November 17, 2016 —

On Thursday, Nov. 17, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) releases the first-of-its-kind report card that shows how well states protect patients from dangerous doctors. This is the latest in a groundbreaking national investigation into doctors and sex abuse.

The AJC studied laws in every state in the nation to determine which states are the best — and the worst — at shielding patients from sexually abusive doctors. The statutes it examined covered everything from the duty to report bad doctors and the mandates to revoke the licenses of the worst, to who serves on medical disciplinary boards. It also considers how much information patients are allowed to see about doctors who have gotten into trouble.

Not a single state met the highest bar in every one of the five categories of laws the AJC examined. Meanwhile, in 49 states and the District of Columbia, multiple gaps in laws can leave patients vulnerable to abusive physicians. Delaware was the only state with a comprehensive package of laws. 

“Every state in the nation can look at this report and find out what can be done to protect citizens from dangerous doctors,” Editor Kevin Riley said. “The findings of our ‘Doctors & Sex Abuse’ series show that predatory doctors are out there and are not always stopped by the laws on the books today.” 

For the first time, patients can easily see how well their state stacks up and where patient protections fall short. Trailing the nation, with scores below 50 out of 100 points, are Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. 

Highlights of the exclusive AJC investigation:

  •  Few barriers for felons: Only six states have laws requiring permanent license revocation for physicians convicted of felonies involving sexual misconduct. 
  •  Enforcement power lags: In 21 states, no penalties are specified for hospitals that break the law and fail to report abusive physicians to medical boards. Medical regulators have said they lack the power to enforce the reporting laws. 
  •  Criminal histories unchecked: Fourteen states still do not require criminal checks before giving a license to someone who can prescribe powerful drugs and ask patients to strip down and submit to being touched.
  • Patient voices limited: In most states, doctors dominate medical regulatory agencies and have the authority to decide who is fit to practice medicine. National standards call for strong consumer representation, but many states fall short.

To read the AJC’s investigation, and explore the 50-state report card, go to


About The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the leading source – both in print and online – of news, information and advertising for metropolitan Atlanta, reaching a total print and online audience of 1.6 million people each week. Every month, nearly 6.4 million unique visitors access the newspaper’s websites, including, and Our newsroom is the largest in Georgia with more than 150 journalists. We report on a metro area that has more than 5 million people and cover five core counties and more than 20 city governments. Plus, the AJC has a dedicated investigations team of 11 reporters and editors – a combined 285 years of experience – demanding integrity and effectiveness from local governments and businesses. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is part of Cox Media Group, a publishing, digital media and broadcasting subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.