A Harvard University Health Services physician was terminated last year after receiving several complaints from female patients aged 18 to 31 who alleged misconduct and inappropriate behavior during physical examinations.
Jeffrey R. Schapiro worked as an urgent care physician at HUHS from July 2018 until his dismissal in March 2022, following at least eight formal complaints from patients to HUHS in the span of a year. Schapiro has disputed the complainants’ interpretation of his actions and their severity in written statements and an interview with The Crimson.
According to now-impounded court documents obtained by The Crimson from a civil proceeding before the Massachusetts Superior Court in Middlesex County, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine — which is responsible for licensing, regulating, and disciplining Massachusetts-based physicians — subpoenaed HUHS on May 4, 2022, for the unredacted and identifiable medical records of four of the complainants.
The records, which remain sealed, are required for the Board’s investigation of the practices and quality of care Schapiro provided, according to the court documents.
The subpoena drew resistance from HUHS, which objected to the release of the patients’ de-anonymized medical records on the basis of individual privacy concerns.
Despite opposition from HUHS, following a hearing, a Middlesex County Superior Court judge allowed the subpoena against HUHS to move forward in December, forcing the University’s health service to provide the Board with the students’ records and names under seal.
Schapiro’s name is redacted in the court documents, which describe him as “John Doe.” Schapiro confirmed in an interview with The Crimson that he is the subject of the complaints and described many of them as “reasonably accurate accounts,” but he said his behavior was routine and misinterpreted.
“I do not believe I have ever examined anybody in a clinically irrelevant or not pertinent manner,” he said. “I think that is something that fully is not appreciated or not believed by some of the people who have made accusations towards me.”
Schapiro remains a fully licensed physician in Massachusetts, according to the Board’s website. As of Thursday, he has not been disciplined by the Board.
One of the complainants, who visited HUHS on Feb. 13, 2022, described her appointment with Schapiro as “a very bad experience” in the obtained court document containing patient satisfaction comments.
“He touched my right inner thigh during my first visit (not during my ankle exam, but while he was explaining next steps and I was sitting in the patient chair next to the computer and desk),” the anonymous complainant wrote.
The patient added that he made “weird, presumptive mumbling comments” after asking her if she could be pregnant and continued inappropriate behavior during her visit the next day.
“I had the sense during both visits that he was ‘hitting on me’ or something of the sort,” the patient wrote. “While he does not categorically assault women, I think that his conduct is highly unprofessional.”
In an emailed statement, Schapiro wrote that “any touching of the inner thigh was still part of the broader neurovascular evaluation” and that he asks “all women of childbearing age if pregnancy is a potential concern” before beginning an X-ray.
One woman wrote that the doctor was “weirdly touchy” and “would touch my back,” and another wrote she felt “unsafe and creeped out because he kept touching me.”
“I would not recommend this provider to any woman,” the complainant wrote. “The whole time I just had this gut feeling that I was in danger and I needed to get out of there.”
Schapiro wrote that he does “get close to all patients, regardless of gender” for examinations and to go over written instructions with them.
“I am very proud of my efforts to communicate fully and openly with patients and am quite distraught to be learning now for the very first time that this well intentioned practice was actually being perceived as being too intrusive by some patients,” he wrote.
Five of the eight complaints explicitly mentioned inappropriate touching, three expressed concerns over his medical practices, and two alleged inappropriate comments during exams.
In one of the complaints about Schapiro’s medical procedures, a patient wrote that she was concerned that he did not initially use lubricant gel during a pelvic exam when swabbing her for bacterial vaginosis.
“When I expressed that it hurt, [he] did not move hastily to take it out,” wrote the complainant.
Schapiro wrote that he does not typically use lubricant because it makes diagnosis via microscope slides more difficult, adding that he was “certainly not attempting to be cruel.”
“I did not like to use lubricant to obtain the sample for the microscope because the lubricant distorted the appearance of the slide and made the accurate diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis, in particular, quite challenging,” he wrote.
Schapiro said he does not believe he has been “treated fairly” by HUHS officials.
“This was not a heinous crime that I committed. These were minor issues. I was not perfect in my behavior. I did touch somebody. I acknowledge that,” Schapiro said.
Schapiro wrote in a follow-up comment that he had never seen any of the patient satisfaction complaints provided to the Board and that he continues to believe his behavior was appropriate and consistent with “medically indicated” examinations.
“I find this failure to make me aware of the accusations quite negligent and perhaps malicious on the part of the Harvard administration,” Schapiro wrote. “I had no opportunity to respond to the specific complaints, either to defend myself against false or exaggerated reports or to appreciate that some of my habitual practices, performed in an effort to provide good medical care, were being perceived as inappropriate.”
“I sincerely believe that none of these complaints provides evidence of malicious or inappropriate behavior,” he added.
HUHS spokesperson Cherrelle L. Norris declined to comment on Schapiro’s criticisms, citing policy against commenting on personnel matters.
Following the complaints, HUHS put Schapiro on leave on Feb. 18, 2022, but according to an email from HUHS to Schapiro, he attended grand rounds — a remote medical seminar — and continued to contact colleagues.
“You utilized the electronic medical record and sent multiple messages to other HUHS providers and issued orders for patients,” HUHS wrote to Schapiro. “In addition, you were insubordinate to Dr. [Redacted] during grand rounds by refusing to leave despite his instruction to do so.”
Schapiro said in an interview that he was not initially made aware of the terms of his administrative leave and complied with the leave after he was advised that he had violated its rules.
“It was not something that I had been advised that I shouldn’t do,” Schapiro said of attending grand rounds. “I had no idea of what administrative leave was, except the fact that I wasn’t going to come into work and see patients.”
In a Feb. 20, 2022, email, Schapiro wrote to HUHS saying that he was “clearly at fault in one of the complaints.”
“While I had no lascivious or solicitous intentions, I without question placed my unappreciated hand on one patient’s knee multiple times,” Schapiro wrote in the email. “The touching took place outside of my exam and was well-meaning but unprofessional. She made me aware at the time that my hand was unwelcome and I acknowledged her discomfort.”
Schapiro also wrote in the email that he was shocked by “the revelation that I was the provider who generated the most complaints in the health center.”
On March 4, 2022, Schapiro was terminated by HUHS in a letter which named a “violation of Harvard and HUHS policies” as the reason for his dismissal.
The letter also referenced two additional complaints, including an allegation that he told a patient, “If you keep coming back, people might talk about us.”
Schapiro said in an interview that he had seen the patient who leveled the complaint on three separate, unscheduled visits, which he said he thought was a “strange phenomenon.” He said his comment was “not a solicitation.”
Schapiro added that the letter misquoted him and that he told the patient, “We have to stop meeting like this, people might start talking.”
“This is more a reflection on the perception of the outside world that you can’t have an innocuous encounter three times or so,” Schapiro said in the interview. “The tendency is for other people to jump to conclusions.”
Schapiro said he views HUHS’ decision to terminate him as “swift and drastic,” adding that he believes the University’s health service “overreacted” to his conduct due to controversy over other high-profile investigations of professional misconduct at Harvard.
In recent years, several Harvard academics — including African and African American Studies and Anthropology professor John L. Comaroff, Economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., and Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez — have faced sexual misconduct allegations and subsequent investigations.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton and HUHS spokesperson Norris did not comment on Schapiro’s criticisms of Harvard’s misconduct procedures.
The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine also declined to comment on their open investigation into Schapiro’s quality of care.
“This has been devastating to my career,” Schapiro said. “I don’t know what to expect. Potential employers don’t know what to expect, and it makes me an undesirable candidate.”
HUHS’ March dismissal of Schapiro triggered a notification to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a database operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that contains records of medical malpractice and other misconduct. The notice prompted the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine to begin an investigation into Schapiro’s medical care, according to court documents.
The Board first issued HUHS a subpoena on April 5, 2022, for Schapiro’s employment records. HUHS complied with the initial order, but on May 4, the Board subpoenaed HUHS for medical records containing identifying information of four of the patients whose complaints appeared in the employment file.
HUHS resisted the subpoena of student medical records, citing education and health records privacy laws, and instead offered to provide copies of the records with all identifying information redacted.
“HUHS will not comply with the May 4, 2022 subpoena as it is an illegal and unwarranted invasion into the privacy of the students,” Ingrid S. Martin, an attorney for HUHS, wrote on June 24.
“We do not believe that HUHS can legally provide these materials to you in an unredacted form, nor do we see any exigent need by the Board that would justify such an invasion of the four students’ personal and medical privacy,” Martin wrote.
But the Board rejected HUHS’ offer to provide redacted documents, arguing that they needed the patients’ records in order to adequately investigate Schapiro “for potential substandard or inappropriate care.” On Aug. 11, the Board filed a civil action against HUHS in the Middlesex Superior Court to compel them to provide unredacted documents in support of their investigation.
HUHS opposed the motion in an Aug. 26 filing, writing that the Board often evaluates a doctor’s quality of care based on redacted documents.
“It seems likely that the Board’s true intent is to try to contact the four female patients and to interview them,” HUHS’ filing read. “As HUHS has made clear, such an outreach, which would ask these patients to relive the trauma of their experiences again, is unnecessary and unreasonable in this case because Dr. Doe has already admitted to the underlying misconduct.”
Months later, on Dec. 12, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Brent A. Tingle ruled in favor of the Board, compelling HUHS to release the sealed, but unredacted, medical records.
“After review and hearing this motion is allowed where the Board is a healthcare oversight organization as defined in HIPAA and where FERPA requires production of the requested patient records in response to a lawful subpoena and notice to the patients,” Tingle wrote.
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, regulate privacy practices for medical records and educational records, respectively. Both FERPA and HIPAA allow for the disclosure of records without consent due to a subpoena or judicial order.
Lawyer Steven D. Zansberg, who has written about FERPA, said HIPAA is more relevant to the students’ medical records.
“The statute that applies here is not FERPA, but HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is a federal statute that protects patient records from public inspection, and imposes penalties on the medical care providers for wrongfully disclosing such records,” he said.
According to a 2019 HUHS privacy practices document, HUHS can disclose medical information without written consent for reasons including health oversight activities, lawsuits and disputes, and law enforcement.
Norris, the HUHS spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement that patient confidentiality is an essential part of providing health care.
“A judge has clarified what the Board of Registration in Medicine may legally obtain from HUHS, and we are fully cooperating with the process and have notified the patients prior to any disclosure,” Norris wrote.
Correction: February 17, 2023
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the HUHS physician who was terminated following misconduct allegations. His name is Jeffrey R. Schapiro.