Dispatch reporters uncovered hundreds of doctors preying on patients. Here's how they did it

The Columbus Dispatch's groundbreaking Preying on Patients series was years in the making.

The idea to do an in-depth story on sexual misconduct allegations against doctors and the State Medical Board of Ohio's handling of those cases first came about after information on Dr. Richard Strauss was unearthed in 2018. Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005, is thought to have abused at least 177 students and athletes during his time at Ohio State University.

Encarnacion Pyle, now managing editor for news, suggested at the time that reporters take a look at doctor misconduct and the medical board's handling of it.

The series revealed Strauss wasn't an outlier.

In fact, at least 256 physicians have been disciplined by the medical board for sexual misconduct since 1980, The Dispatch found. Their victims included at least 449 patients and countless others such as colleagues, prostitutes, children and acquaintances outside of their medical practice.

Those statistics don't include the untold number of sexual misconduct allegations that were never reported or accusations for which it's unclear whether any investigation actually took place.

How we did this investigation

To find those figures, Dispatch reporters spent weeks combing through thousands of public records.

In June 2021, Dispatch reporter Max Filby requested 42 years of meeting minutes and monthly formal action reports from the state medical board. It took months for Filby, a public health reporter at the time, to get all of the documents he requested.

By that point, it was the fall of 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic picked back up, forcing Filby to drop the idea until the start of 2022.

Once Filby started going through records in January, he realized he was going to need some help. Dispatch editors added reporters Jennifer Smola Shaffer and Mike Wagner to the investigation.

Share your story with The Columbus Dispatch

Dispatch reporters will continue investigating doctor sexual misconduct and the State Medical Board of Ohio's handling of it over the years. Share your story if you're interested in having reporters look into it.

Together, the reporters spent months sorting through records to reach the best count of doctors and patients they could compile.

After that, they began searching for the names of victims.

The reporters found them in archived stories and in lawsuits filed against doctors and health systems. They were also referred to some victims by attorneys who had represented them in court.

Reporters then drove to nearly every corner of the state to try and make contact with some of the victims.

Once reporters interviewed several victims, they went to work figuring out how to best share their stories. Some of the victims were comfortable going fully on the record and others asked that their identity remain anonymous.

The reporters also attempted to interview doctors disciplined by the medical board, some of whom disputed the allegations and citations.

Meet the team

Along with the three reporters who worked on the series, Pyle and former Metro Editor Paul Souhrada edited the stories.

Dispatch audio engineer Patrick Flaherty handled the podcast and former Dispatch librarian Julie Fulton conducted research for the series.

Dispatch photojournalist Courtney Hergesheimer took the lead role in producing photos and video for the project. Dispatch photojournalist Adam Cairns, former Dispatch photojournalist Fred Squillante and Palm Beach Post photojournalist Thomas Cordy also contributed photos. Senior Dispatch photographer Kyle Robertson coordinated photography for the project.

Shortly after becoming the new Executive Editor of The Dispatch, Edwina Blackwell Clark enlisted Gannett's storytelling studio to create the digital presentation and helped shepherd the project to its conclusion.

Max Filby

Max Filby
Max Filby

Max Filby has been a reporter since 2013 and joined The Dispatch in 2019. Filby is an enterprise reporter tasked with investigating various topics and trends and writing in-depth stories. Previously, he reported on public health at The Dispatch and was the newspaper's lead reporter covering the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow him on Twitter at @MaxFilby.

Jennifer Smola Shaffer

Jennifer Smola is a Columbus Dispatch reporter. She is pictured in the Dispatch newsroom Thursday, April 1, 2021.
Jennifer Smola is a Columbus Dispatch reporter. She is pictured in the Dispatch newsroom Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Jennifer Smola Shaffer has been a reporter since 2014. She joined The Dispatch as a Licking County reporter in 2015 before going on to cover higher education, reporting on the Richard Strauss sex abuse scandal as it unfolded at Ohio State. After becoming a projects reporter in early 2021, Smola Shaffer helped uncover improper spending and inappropriate business practices at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. You can follow her on Twitter at @jennsmola.

Mike Wagner

Mike Wagner
Mike Wagner

Mike Wagner has been investigative projects/ enterprise reporter at The Dispatch for 16 years. His work has helped free wrongfully convicted men from prison, and has led to the passage of new state and federal reforms related to hazing, consumer credit reports, guardianships and how law enforcement tracks criminal arrest warrants. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeWagner48.

Courtney Hergesheimer

Courtney Hergesheimer
Courtney Hergesheimer

Courtney Hergesheimer has worked as a photojournalist and videographer at The Dispatch for 14 years. She was in charge of visuals for the Preying on Patients series. In the past she has helped cover sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church throughout Ohio. You can follow her on Twitter at @coherg.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: How Dispatch reporters uncovered hundreds of doctor sexual abuse cases