Be Certain Your Behavior Around Colleagues, Patients Stays Professional

By Joey Berlin

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken — and the list just keeps growing. They might be more famous than most physicians, but their appearances in recent headlines have shined new light on professional conduct — something doctors may do well to reexamine.

No matter how well you know a patient or how at ease you might feel around a colleague, be careful. With sexual harassment and assault allegations dominating the news lately, it's a good time to make sure you’re always conducting yourself in an unquestionably professional and appropriate manner.

Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) policy defines physician sexual misconduct as "behavior that exploits the physician-patient relationship in a sexual way." 

Among FSMB's listed examples of sexual impropriety:

  • Not employing disrobing or draping practices that respect the patient's privacy, or deliberately watching a patient dress or undress;
  • Examination or touching of genital mucosal areas without using gloves;
  • Inappropriate comments about or to the patient, which can include making sexual comments about a patient's body or underclothing, sexualized or sexually demeaning comments, and making comments about a potential sexual encounter during an examination; and
  • The physician initiating a conversation regarding the physician's sexual problems, preferences, or fantasies.

A TMA Board of Councilors opinion states that sexual contact occurring "concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct and is unethical."

The Board of Councilors recommends giving patients the option of having a chaperone present. In its opinion on the use of chaperones, the board also mentions several ways to ensure patients are in a "comfortable and considerate atmosphere," including:

  • Providing appropriate gowns;
  • Having private facilities for undressing;
  • Sensitive use of draping; and 
  • Clear explanations about different facets of the exam.

TMA offers several resources on professional conduct. The TMA course Challenges: Professional Boundaries and Patient Encounters teaches doctors to recognize how boundary problems occur, and how to ethically and professionally manage challenging patient encounters. TMA’s Policies and Procedures: A Guide for Medical Practices includes a harassment and discrimination policy that lists examples of prohibited conduct and the process of handling complaints. 

You can also review and refine your office policies using TMA's Employee Handbook for Medical Practices

Action, Dec. 15, 2017

Last Updated On

May 03, 2018

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