7 Clues Your Doctor Is Crossing the Line
Posted by Giles Manley on Oct 07, 2014 in Medical Malpractice
Some 8,500 women in Baltimore just won a $192 million settlement because a hospital-employed gynecologist crossed the line from medical professional to a sexual predator. The news about Dr. Nikita Levy shocked the city of Baltimore and the nation. I practiced obstetrics/gynecology for 20 years before becoming a lawyer and this case shocked me.
With all the news about the Levy settlement, a lot of women have asked me again how they can tell if their doctor is violating boundaries. So I’m reintroducing a blog I wrote earlier about this very subject.
Your Doctor: Professional or Predator?
Doctors are required legally, ethically and professionally, to act certain ways when they are around patients. There are certain boundaries they are expected not to cross. Most people feel a certain degree of exposure when they are being physically examined by a doctor. Women, especially, may feel vulnerable when it comes to pelvic or breast exams. Following are seven behaviors that should raise red flags about the doctor performing your gynecologic exam:
Clue #1 — Your request for a chaperone is denied
An additional person, such as a nurse, should be present in the room during a gynecologic exam. This is to protect both the patient and the physician and is standard medical practice. Be aware that some doctor offices and clinics may only provide a chaperone upon request, so if you would feel more comfortable with a nurse present, be sure to ask. If your request is denied, refuse the exam and find another doctor.
Clue #2 – You are left bare for no reason
Patients should be asked only to disrobe that portion of the body being examined. For example, a breast exam should only require taking clothes off from the waist up. A full gynecologic annual exam will also require a pelvic exam, so a patient would be expected to disrobe completely. However, a patient should always be given a gown to wear that completely covers the part of the body that is unclothed. A covering is usually placed over the patient’s lap during a pelvic exam. At no time should the patient’s body be exposed unnecessarily.
Clue #3 – Comments or looks make you uncomfortable
Sexual, suggestive or lewd comments or looks are always considered inappropriate. Women often pretend just not to have heard or noticed such behaviors. The power imbalance that exists between a patient and a doctor makes this seem like the safest choice. After all, a patient needs the doctor for a diagnosis or treatment. But, it’s important to speak up. If you don’t want to face the doctor directly, seek out the clinic manager, a nurse, or a hospital official. This kind of behavior needs to end, not only because it affects other patients, but it could point to more serious issues that a doctor’s employer needs to address.
Clue #4 – Touching in ways that make you uncomfortable
Touching in a way that seems intended to bring about sexual arousal is not only inappropriate, it is illegal. A gynecologist will have to insert a speculum and sometimes gloved fingers into your vagina to perform an exam, but this should not last more than a few minutes and should not feel sexual.
Clue #5 – A quick and unexplained follow-up
If a doctor schedules another quick appointment for a gynecologic exam and doesn’t give a good reason why ask for a copy of your patient notes that say why such a follow-up would be necessary. Usually, a follow-up is requested only if the physician is concerned about at finding, and that usually requires more information from a test, like an ultrasound or a pap smear, before the doctor sees you again.
Clue # 6 – Your doctor wants to be “friends”
When I was practicing, I had many friends come to me for their care, because they trusted me. But we were friends first. Otherwise, doctors are ethically required to avoid initiating social relationships with patients. This includes any form of contact on Facebook or other social media. Before a doctor can begin a social relationship with a patient, the doctor-patient relationship must be officially ended.
Clue # 7 – Your doctor invades your privacy
Doctors must respect a patient’s privacy, including not talking about the patient with non-professionals, not sharing gossip, and never taking photos or videos without a patient’s written permission. This permission should be in the form of an official office, clinic or hospital release that describes the reason for the photo or video, such as documentation of a condition for a research project, along with the co-signature of the physician.