Over 80 patients logged lawsuits against a Boston-based rheumatologist, Derrick Todd, MD, after he performed medically unnecessary breast, pelvic, and rectal examinations for his sexual gratification.
Experts say hospitals and care centers should consider adopting stricter policies, like chaperoned MD visits.
A Boston-based rheumatologist, Derrick Todd, MD, is accused of performing inappropriate and medically unnecessary physical examinations on nearly 80 women who were his patients, a class action lawsuit alleges.
Records say that Todd provided direct patient care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital as a physician in the Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity from 2009 through July 2023. Additionally, he was a rheumatologist providing direct patient care at Charles River Medical Associates, P.C.
Earlier this year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital received two anonymous complaints, which led to an investigation into the allegations. The hospital initially put Todd on leave and subsequently fired him by July 31 as the investigation garnered more information. At that point, Todd had voluntarily surrendered his medical license “before his accusers’ portrayal of him as a serial sexual predator had more fully taken shape,” the Guardian says.
The first lawsuit was officially filed against Todd by an anonymous plaintiff on September 29, and a second lawsuit was filed by a woman named Mimi DiTrani on October 10. As of recently, a total of 82 women have come forward, reporting having been assaulted by Todd. As a result, a third lawsuit, the aforementioned class action suit, was filed in mid-October. Lubin & Meyer PC says that “the number of patients joining the class action complaint continues to increase as more women come forward.”
Although Todd focused on arthritis care and rare rheumatological conditions, he told patients that they needed breast or gynecological exams. Additionally, the Guardian reports that Todd also performed “rectal examinations on patients…for his own sexual gratification.”
CBS News reports that two sisters, Sabrina Soini and Samantha Sullivan—both Todd’s patients—had uncomfortable visits with Todd.
"It was a 45-minute pelvic massage that at the end he had you sit down, and he talked with you, and he asked you all kinds of extremely inappropriate and personal questions about your sex life," Soini told CBS News.
"You know, he was doing things that weren't standard, weren't typical of any normal gynecological exam, and at that point, you know, I felt suspicious," Sullivan told CBS News.
Todd’s accused assault on patients went as far back as 2011 and continued through this summer.
The class action lawsuit names not only Todd but a number of others —including Brigham and Women's, Charles River Medical Associates, Mass General Brigham, and several other MDs who worked alongside or managed Todd—as defendants. Todd is being sued for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual assault, and battery.
Todd’s attorney says he’s done nothing wrong and will defend himself against the allegations.
What do healthcare providers think of cases like this
According to Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, LCSW-C, the author of “Reimagining Customer Service in Healthcare,” these sorts of lawsuits have a huge impact on patient trust—especially, she says, after the pandemic’s “revolving door of continuously changing COVID-19 policies and recommendations. Many patients are deeply distrustful of the healthcare system.”
At best, FitzPatrick says, seeing a doctor is a routine chore. But it can be very stressful, she underscores. “Patients worry all the time about potential bad news, being judged, and having to share private details with someone they often barely know,” she says. “But this is the type of story that plants additional anxiety in the minds of patients who are considering seeing a new provider.”
Furthermore, FitzPatrick adds that cases like these could even keep patients from switching doctors when they genuinely need to. “For example, one might think, ‘Well, I was thinking of switching doctors because I don’t particularly like his bedside manner, but at least he isn’t sexually abusing me.’”
To protect patients, FitzPatrick says that providers should consider adopting stricter policies, like chaperoned MD visits—particularly, she says, those patients who have a history of trauma and/or borderline, histrionic, or narcissistic personality disorder traits.
“For women who are particularly phobic about healthcare and have diagnoses like iatrophobia or tomophobia, it can make them even more reluctant to see a doctor. Also, women who have a history of sexual assault, abuse, or PTSD may be likely be less likely to see doctors after reading this story. In order to combat this, it’s important for medical practices to positively publicize the availability of chaperones,” FitzPatrick says.
Lesley Brovner, co-founder of Peters Brovner LLP, a NYC-based boutique litigation firm, agrees with FitzPatrick, saying cases like this have a “chilling effect” on patient trust. “Given the importance of preventative health care, this can have dire consequences,” she adds.
Brovner recommends that hospitals and care centers take certain actions to prevent abuse by hospital personnel. “These include implementing strong sexual harassment and abuse policies—which are clearly posted throughout the hospital, extensive training on those policies, deep background checks on all hospital personnel, mandatory reporting of any abuse by hospital personnel, and requiring multiple people to be in the room with patients,” Brovner says.