Florida physician arrested for sexual battery: Addressing rumors of assault in healthcare settings

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published February 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Despite healthcare’s best intentions, many doctors have committed assault—and many retain their licenses.

  • When physicians hear rumors of their colleagues committing assault, it can be hard to know how to act – especially when information is unconfirmed.

  • Creating safe environments for patients to talk about experiences, advocating for safety in abuse reporting, and talking to supervisors about concerns may help keep others’ actions in check.

Recently, four patients in Florida accused a doctor of improper touching. Saul Lipsman was a podiatrist in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. However, this month, he lost his license. He also pleaded guilty to sexual battery. Lipsman, having practiced as a physician for decades, prompts the question: Did other doctors ever suspect any wrongdoing, and if they did, what actions could have been taken?[]

When a doctor is found guilty of assaulting a patient, they can face consequences such as imprisonment or loss of their license. However, this is not always the case, especially if patients do not report the incident.

For example, some patients who are assaulted by a doctor may talk about their experience informally, and their stories may sound like rumors. In these cases, it can be difficult for other providers to know how to intervene. 

Assault by doctors in the US

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), more than 2,400 US doctors have committed sexual assault, and half of these doctors retain their licenses. In some cases, patients do not formally report the assault, and in others, hospitals may handle situations internally (such as asking a doctor to leave the hospital) without getting law enforcement involved.[]

Related: From protector to predator: Physicians who sexually assault their patients

When the law requires you to report assault

In several states, including New Jersey and Wyoming, all professions, including physicians, are legally required to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment.[]

When it comes to physicians, some states also require physicians to report incidents of vulnerable adult abuse, which can pertain to when an older adult or a person with a disability is being harmed by someone meant to take care of them. Depending on interpretation, this could apply to some doctors and their patients. Further, when doctors hear rumors of assault, the rules for reporting are less clear.

Kristen Fuller, MD, physician, and MDLinx medical board member, says responding to rumors of assault can be a “tricky situation and…an individualized decision.”

Dr. Fuller has not been in this situation herself, but says that if she encounters an outlying rumor about one of her colleagues, she would like to try to get more information by talking to other physicians she trusts about the scenario – and keeping her “eyes and ears open in the future.” Doctors may also want to consider talking with their employer to see if they know about the situation, Dr. Fuller adds.

However, it can be hard to pin down the facts when whispers are unconfirmed. She advises doctors to encourage patients to report their experiences with wrongdoing and assault so that things can be handled appropriately. Listening to patients and acting professionally, politely, and respectfully—with your actions, language, and physical touch—may help create an environment where patients feel comfortable opening up to you.

“It is important to be an advocate for patient reporting so patients report these scenarios when they occur—so they do not get swept under the rug or tossed into the rumor mill,” Dr. Fuller says.

It can also be important to advocate for the safety of providers who report assault. Fear of backlash, like being fired, may prevent some professionals from reporting assault. Establishing a formal method of how doctors can report assault in healthcare may be important. 

“Many physicians choose not to report out of fear they will be shamed or may lose their job, or they may not know how to report these allegations since there is no standard of reporting,” Dr. Fuller says.

When a patient directly reveals an experience with assault

When a patient directly tells you about an experience where a doctor assaulted them, you have more power to intervene. Because they are coming to you directly, you can help by listening to them and encouraging them to directly report the incident. It is important to be cognizant of privacy laws pertaining to sharing information without patient consent.

Dr. Fuller says if she encountered this situation, she would initiate a confidential conversation with the patient and then strongly encourage the patient to report abuse to authorities and the state medical board. She recommends providers also report abuse to their employer and the state medical board, but this may be a personal decision.

Whether or not you confront the other physician is a personal decision. Choosing to do this may depend on your personal sense of safety with the physician and whether or not you feel that confronting the individual will have a positive effect. Dr. Fuller says personally, she would not confront the other physician. 

What this means for you 

If a doctor suspects another physician is mistreating or abusing patients, it can be a good idea to talk to other providers or supervisors to get more information and make others aware. To avoid rumors, advocate for safety in patient and provider reporting.

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