The Male Doctor and the Female Patient

Starting today, once a month or more frequently, I will also address the changing paradigms of the doctor-patient relationship.

Last month, a family physician’s name was dragged into the spotlight when a female patient of his cried “rape” after a consultation, where he and she were alone in the consulting room for some time while the receptionist sat outside and the husband went off to attend to some work.

This piece is not about the rape allegation or whether the doctor was wrong or has been wronged. The doctor however did make one mistake. He spent time alone with a female patient in his consulting room, with the door closed!

In today’s day and age, each male physician has to adhere to one zero-tolerance rule. “NEVER see a female patient alone, irrespective of age, without a female attendant or a relative in the same room”. NEVER, EVER!

We wear seatbelts to protect ourselves from injury. We exercise to ward-off ill health. Similarly, we need to take measures to prevent any incident that can possibly smear our name and reputation. There are many such potential volatile situations, but none more than seeing a female patient alone in the consulting room.

I am paranoid! I don’t even see female employees alone in my office, except for a few who I have known for donkeys’ years and even then only for short periods of time, or with the door of the office open. If I am doing appraisals, I actually have the manager wait just outside the door…if a female employee goes out crying for whatever reason, it needs to be understood that there was no personal or physical manhandling of any sort.

Similarly with patients! By staying alone in a room with a female patient, the male doctor exposes himself to the possibility of an allegation of inappropriate behavior. How difficult is it to have someone else in the room?

In our country, rarely do patients come alone. There is invariably an attendant, a relative or a friend with the patient (sometimes 4 or 5 of them). Have that person(s) stay in the room! It is very difficult to make a rape or abuse attempt stick when you are alone and the persons accusing you, many. Assuming for whatever reason that a female patient has come alone, then get a female staff member to wait inside the room. And if that is an issue, then request another patient or relative to be inside the consulting room, after explaining the situation and taking permission from all concerned.

Many doctors will have a bunch of excuses. “I can’t afford to have so much staff. My consulting is small. That patient was a 70-years old lady. I am 75 years old. My child patient is only 8-years old.”

Rubbish! Just as we now all have professional indemnity insurance (just a few year ago, doctors used to laugh at the concept), and just as we now take detailed informed consent for all procedures (something that was often not done for many, many years), we need to take adequate measures to protect ourselves.

I repeat! NEVER see a female patient alone in a room! No exceptions!

And for female patients who are visiting male doctors! Please insist on someone else being in the room with you and ensure that you are never alone with a male doctor. This is in your interest as well as the doctor’s. Preferably, try and anticipate a situation like this and take someone along with you! It will save everyone a lot of trouble.

23 Comments

  • Dushyant Bhatia wrote:

    bitter truth.. i read today what Tagore said..”Facts may be many, but truth is one”.. alas this no longer holds true as people have lost their values & we all have become paranoid ..unfortunately or fortunately support comes to female ‘victim’ who may be rightly or wrongly blaming a male counterpart ! Who is the realy victim, no one outside the closed doors know.. sooner similar clauses will be applicable between husband & wife going by the number of false DV cases being filed every day all over India ! God bless all !

  • Satish Rao wrote:

    The same applies when one employs a female maid to clean your house or to do the cooking. If you are alone, do not get into argument about the quality of her work or about anything. The maid may not complain that she had been raped – it is difficult to prove. But she may say that her employer tried to rape her. It will have enough bad publicity even if the case is not proved and the employer is subsequently acquitted.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    That is so true Satish. I am equally paranoid about this.

  • Sundaram M R wrote:

    Life used to be simple, not anymore. True, now one needs to take such basic precations, like wearing a seatbelt while driving!

  • sachin khachane wrote:

    Need CCTV in our consulting room also !!!

  • Chandrashekar wrote:

    It is a difficult situation. There are several cases where women are alleged to have instigated the male, in order to file rape/ sexual discrimination cases. They sleep around with the a man for several years,and then when the man wants to break the relationship, they cry rape and try to extort.

    In any case men ( and doctors ) have to learn to avoid such dangerous situations

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Should a lady doctor take the same precautions with a male patient ? :-))

  • jamna varadhachary wrote:

    ditto as Satish said. I had a rule. My elderly maid would sometimes send her young daughter If my teenage boys were at home and I was not,the maid was told not to come. I preferred to do the work myself.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Tweets

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    I know a lady who complains that she finds the physical examination carried out by her cardiologist a bit inappropriate, but she trusts his medical judgement so much that she keeps going back to the same male doctor! I also know of a lady doctor who says that some of her male patients appear to ‘enjoy’ the examination!! But I agree that a relative or a nurse MUST be present during any medical examination.

  • Mehroo Kharegat wrote:

    I agree with every word you have said. However, what has happened to us? Have we lost all sense of Decency and Integrity? Does the word ‘Faith’ not have any meaning? A regular Doctor you went to was called a ‘Family Doctor’ because both he and you felt part of one family. Due to present developments, is all this to be forgotten? Worse still, have we women fought for freedom and equal rights to one day hang our heads in shame? Though I agree with every word you say it is a sad day when one needs to follow your advice.

  • Armaity Patel wrote:

    As Bhavin says, ‘every precaution should be taken and not even age differences to be given as an excuse to be alone with a Therefore now many female patients like to see an female doctor and vice versa!
    But then there are the nurses ! Can they attend a male patient? In America there are both male and female nurses and male nurse even sponge female patients. But if you request for a female only, then they do respect your wishes.
    In short, Better safe than sorry! Even with the housemaids, school bus attendants, etc. Cheer up, we are living in the world of Paranoids!!

  • I believe that a patient has complete faith in his Doctor espescially a female patient who sometimes feel very awkword to share some problems with his doctor. I feel very ashamed when i hear such incidents where Doctor is blamed even if he is not at fault. Thus i agree every word u said in your article.

  • Yes indeed. Bitter truth.

    A story of a fashion model having extorted compensation from a plastic Surgeon after making such allegations did make rounds recently.

    Setting up a CCTV camera in the consulting room is a good idea. However, it may trigger privacy concerns in patients.

    I’m sure this would not be possible in a gynac/ USG/ probably even surgical clinics.

    I would like to have your/ reader’s views on this issues.

    Probably best to have a lady attendant.

  • DR. ASHOK SHAH, NAIROBI wrote:

    One thing I do as a normal practice whenever a female patient come alone is to keep the consulting room slightly ajar so that the patient is not locked into the room for examination and the secretary can actually watch what is being done

  • Navneet Joshi wrote:

    Nowadays it is desirable to be cautious in dealing with ladies in each and every sphere of life, by males and vice versa.Anybody can take shelter of touching improperly or an
    attempt for rape, to take revenge. So what you have suggested is very correct. It is better to be safe instead of becoming sorry.

  • My Dear Bahavin
    I am truly surprised your subject this week has attracted so many responses. Looks even a DOC will not trust another DOC in case his better half needs examination. What code of practice should we name this caution from you.
    Regards
    TNM

  • Janak Sheth wrote:

    With increasing media coverage crying wolf has becoming common method of making a quick buck. A lot of it has to do with getting rich quick.

    The “accused” faces ignominy, police harassment and high costs.

    Trust is becoming an expensive commodity.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    Though I agree with your recommendation in Toto, It also depends on how each one has attitude towards other and society as a whole. Trust begat trust and so do distrust. Next day after your article appeared there was news about govt. hosp. doctor misbehaving with female patient. Unfortunately there is palpable and measurable decline in moral values and ethics of society as a whole. Doctors come from this same society. So we have to accept that there will be more bad eggs, black sheep. If we do not act then government will step in sooner rather then later and we will have more laws to follow and more forms to fill. What happened in sex determination test with sonologist illustrates this point.So if more such cases are reported your recommendations will be known as Bhavin’s Law!

  • ashvin wrote:

    confidential interview may help many female patients to find outlet to complaint against mother-in-law sister-in-law or husband when she with family doctor .good listening and consoling can be part of treatment of her depression and aches and pains very unfortunates land up with psychiatrist

  • All very well said. I concur every word you have written.Both the male Docs. and the female play with the situation to ensure a benefit of doubt.

  • doctors can never be trusted as far as dignity or physical privacy is concerned. these people treat their patients shamelessly. in OTs they expose female patients nude in front of even ward boys and still try to behave as nothing wrong has happened. they always use to justify their shameless attitude but will never respect any of patient’s preferences. no one knows of someone is taking a pic of females inside OT or some one is touching their private partsor doing something else.

  • can you throw light when male ward boys are allowed to roam freely in operating room while female patients are lying unconsious doing surgery?

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