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Polygraphs proving useful in sexual misconduct probes

A new study reported in a journal published by the Federation of State Medical Boards found that polygraphing of medical professionals referred for assessment for violating sexual boundaries uncovered important new information about sexual boundary problems in 56% of 18 polygraphed cases studied. (Finlayson AJ, et al., “Professional Sexual Misconduct: The Role of the Polygraph in Independent Comprehensive Evaluation, Journal of Medical Regulation 101:2 (2015), 23-34.)

The study authors consider the findings a significant boost for polygraph examining as an investigative tool.

“Results suggest that the polygraph appears to be a useful component of an independent, comprehensive evaluation for sexual misconduct, as it may provide additional information to better understand what happened and more accurately determine a strategy for possible rehabilitation of the physician.”

Specifically studying the cases of 18 physicians who were referred for a fitness-to-practice evaluation, the study authors found that polygraphing added new information about sexual behavior problems that was not elicited beforehand by repeated interviews and other standard clinical methods.

This included discovering new information about sex with additional staff or patients, and new information about additional compulsive sexual behavior.

Polygraph evidence is inadmissible in criminal cases in 30 states and in 9 of 12 federal circuit courts. However, the standards of evidence for professional regulation, which is governed by administrative law, are less strict.

The study authors note that their retrospective study did not look at a randomized group, and that more research is needed. But they believe the findings support inclusion of polygraph evaluation in the FSMB guidelines for state medical boards.