Locum GP Dr A is seeing a patient, Miss F, who is complaining of a problem in her right eye. Dr A explains that “he will need to look at the back of the eye”. He promptly turns out the light in the consulting room and proceeds to perform a fundoscopy.
Whilst Dr A is leaning forward, his tie inadvertently (and unbeknown to Dr A) comes into contact with Miss F’s blouse. She leaves the consultation thinking that Dr A has touched her inappropriately and makes a complaint.
She leaves the consultation thinking that Dr A has touched her inappropriately and makes a complaint
Dr A should have given a clear explanation as to what the examination entailed and confirmed the patient was content for him to proceed before going ahead. Inadvertent contact of this nature can easily be misconstrued, especially in this particular context. Dr A should have been alive to this possibility and taken reasonable steps to minimise such risks (for example, by explaining why he turned the light out, why he had to be so close and tucking his tie in). If any inadvertent contact does occur during the course of an examination, an apology and an acknowledgement should be offered immediately.
- Third person policies should be displayed in the practice waiting and examination areas.
- Arrangements for the presence of a third person should be in place prior to the start of the consultation.
- All parties involved in the consultation must understand the role of the third person, and the patient must give informed consent for a third person to be present and the role they will take.
- The Medical Council of New Zealand advises that the doctor speak with the patient about the presence of a third person in private, away from the nominated third person.
- If a doctor requires a third person to attend a consultation they should preferably be another health professional.
- Third persons should be made aware of the confidential nature of the consultation.