One of the biggest nightmares a physician can face is allegations of inappropriate contact with a patient. Even the accusation, if it becomes widely known, can be enough to damage your personal and professional reputation for years to come.
So, how do you protect yourself from such accusations?
While nothing can prevent a malicious accusation that's entirely untrue, you can do a lot to minimize the chances that any of your patients will genuinely misperceive your intentions or actions. Here are some things to consider:
1. Go out of your way to respect the patient's privacy
It may seem unnecessary to step out of the room while a patient changes into a gown -- or even unnecessary to have the patient change into a gown. However, having the patient put on an examination gown and stepping out while he or she disrobes puts an emphasis on the patient's privacy and shows your respect for that privacy.
2. It never hurts to have a medical assistant in the room
A nurse or medical assistant can serve as a chaperone during intimate physical examinations. The chaperone can assist the exam by taking notes, providing reassurance if a patient is nervous and generally adding to the sense of professionalism during the procedure.
3. Maintain a sense of decorum
Don't joke or make any kind of comments that could be misconstrued. Stick to the purpose of the exam and keep your focus on the patient's condition. When you are done with the exam, step back so that the patient can cover himself or herself before you begin discussing your findings.
4. Know when you need to ask for assistance
If a patient expresses concern about being examined by you because of your gender, don't take affront. Ask another physician to do the examination.
Remember -- it's always better to avoid a problem than to have to defend your professional license after an allegation has been made. If you do find yourself accused of inappropriate contact with a patient, an attorney can help you plan your defense.