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Chaperones protect the patient and the doctor

Every patient should be offered a chaperone for an intimate examination to protect their dignity and privacy. In this case, having a chaperone present protected the doctor from unfounded allegations

Dr V was carrying out a routine doctor’s round in the segregation unit at a women’s prison. She was accompanied by a healthcare assistant. During the round she was asked by a prisoner, Ms J, for medication for anxiety; Dr V declined. Ms J then made a further request for opiate analgesics for hip pain; Dr V decided to examine her and took the appropriate consent. Dr V discovered a small abscess in the left groin area and prescribed anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. However, Ms J reiterated her original medication request and threatened to report Dr V to the Medical Council.

Ms J carried out her threat, alleging that Dr V’s clinical decision-making was unsound and also that she had been rude and abusive – in particular using racist terms to subdue Ms J. Ms J also alleged that Dr V spoke about her condition in a loud voice, which breached patient confidentiality.

The Medical Council concluded an investigation and closed the case with no further action. Dr V’s excellent record-keeping ensured a comprehensive account of her clinical decisions and this allegation was rebutted at an early stage.

Dr V had been accompanied by her assistant throughout her doctor’s round, and had also been observed at a distance by a member of the prison staff. Both were reliable witnesses and since no concerns were raised by them, Dr V was able to refute Ms J’s allegations of a confidentiality breach and Dr V’s abusive manner.

Learning points

Here, the Medical Council was not concerned about the medical care provided, since Dr V had kept a comprehensive and contemporaneous clinical record, but by Dr V’s conduct. The allegations made, if proven, would be serious and might demonstrate impairment of Dr V’s fitness to practise.

In this situation the importance of a chaperone was paramount. Every patient must be afforded dignity and privacy, and this typically means offering a chaperone for an intimate examination. However, this is not the only time when a chaperone should, or can, be offered. It should be remembered that a chaperone also protects the doctor from unfounded allegations, as demonstrated in this case, and if the patient refuses the presence of a chaperone then you may wish to defer the examination or refer the patient on to a colleague who would be willing to conduct the examination, so long as there is not unreasonable delay and the clinical situation does not demand urgent assessment.

The case report detailed is based on MPS experience from around the world and is anonymised to preserve the confidentiality of those involved.

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