Even if allegations of sexual impropriety turn out to be unfounded, the damage to your professional reputation – and your medical practice – can be catastrophic. You could easily get caught up in a legal investigation that drags on for years.
As a physician, what can you do to help protect yourself from false allegations?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Any physician knows that it’s easier to prevent a problem than fix it, and that maxim holds true when it comes to stopping allegations of sexual abuse before they start. Here are some suggestions you may want to take to heart:
- Don’t make private house calls. You may get pressed by neighbors, relatives and friends to do a little diagnostic work. Keep business cards on hand and ask them to call you and make an appointment. That helps keep the professional lines clear.
- Explain the purpose of an examination. If your examination of a patient requires you to touch them on the breast, buttocks or genitals, make sure that you explain what you are doing and why. That makes it clear to the patient what’s happening.
- Offer a chaperone. By all means, allow a patient to bring their friend, spouse or relative with them to the examination. If they’re alone, ask if they would be more comfortable with another person in the room before you begin your exam.
- Step out when the patient is dressing and undressing. This is respectful and can make a patient feel less uncomfortable about the exam. Nobody wants to feel as if they are being watched when they are vulnerable.
- Be prepared to end your doctor-patient relationship. Sometimes patients get a crush on their doctors. If you feel like a patient has a romantic interest in you, refer them to another physician (using the appropriate process so that you give them enough time to transition). Keep a chaperone in the examination room at all times, even if they don’t ask for one.
If you are accused of sexually abusing a patient, don’t panic – and don’t talk to the police until you have a chance to fully discuss the situation with your defense team.