3 strategies to prevent patient sexual assault accusations

By Aine Cryts

Physicians must think ahead--before the exam door closes-–as to whether having a chaperone present during patient exams can help to protect against accusations of sexual assault or inappropriate touching, according to a recent article in Medscape.

A psychiatrist highlighted in the article was accused of sexually assaulting one of his female schizophrenic patients after he examined her--prompted by her complaint of lower back pain--in a private room in his medical office. The police dropped their investigation within a few days, after the physician shared some of the patient's history, as allowed by HIPAA rules. The police also took into account the patient's friendly, chatty demeanor with the receptionist after her appointment, hardly a sign that she had been sexually assaulted during the examination of her back.

To keep your physicians from having to defend themselves after an alleged incident, here are three ways you can help protect against accusations of sexual assault and inappropriate touching at your practice:

  • Ask patients when they schedule the appointment or when they arrive for their visit about their preference for a same-sex physician.
  • Ask patients whether they want to have a chaperone in the room during the exam. Include questions about the preference for a chaperone on the patient intake form and have patients sign the form.
  • Before they proceed with a sensitive exam, urge physicians to consider whether what they are doing could be misinterpreted by patients. Have them err on the side of caution by having a chaperone present for these exams.

The American Medical Association also recommends that physicians have chaperones available for patient examinations. The organization also suggests that practices provide appropriate gowns, private facilities for disrobing, sensitive use of draping and explanations to patients about what to expect during physical exams.

To learn more:
- read the Medscape article
- view the AMA's opinion on chaperones