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Chaperones for intimate examinations

They can protect doctors and patients, says Daniel Stott, but there are also challenges

  • By: Daniel Stott
  • Published: 01 July 2008
  • DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.0807260
  • Cite this as: Student BMJ 2008;16:260

Physical examinations are difficult—and not just for medical students. At a time when patients feel vulnerable, isolated, and fearful doctors may blithely ask them to strip from “nipples to knees.” Appropriate exposure, necessary clinically, may conflict with the patients' own expectations of what's required and appropriate. This conflict sometimes ends up being played out in law courts and litigation claims.

Increasingly, doctors are being asked to seek chaperones for “intimate” physical examinations. And some recent rulings against individual doctors have stipulated that they may only continue to practise with chaperones present during clinical examinations.

In February this year, for example, the General Medical Council ruled that a doctor from Devon, charged with viewing child pornography, could continue to practise only with chaperones present during consultations. In Australia a doctor has been ordered to have chaperones present during examinations, at least until he is cleared of ongoing criminal charges about the

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