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.