How To Protect Yourself at the Doctor

The way it goes often these days with health care insurance, you don’t always get to choose the doctor you want to go to. Whether your HMO won’t allow you to see someone “out of network” or there are not a lot of specialists in your area, you sometimes have to compromise.

With that in mind, when visiting a doctor that may not be your first choice or are familiar with, you should keep your personal safety in mind. Now, it should go without saying that medical professionals should uphold strict boundaries when in the examination or operating room. Yet, while we may have to expose parts of ourselves that we do not share with the greater world, these situations should be kept strictly clinical without the slightest hint of suggestive language, body movements or outright inappropriate contact. However, it’s not uncommon to hear in the news about patients whose boundaries have been violated.

Doctors and other medical professionals that sexually abuse their patients are in the minority. But, abuse in the exam room can happen and is often so damaging that it ruins a person’s life, whether a man or woman.

Now, one might think that if a doctor brings a nurse in to the room for the examination, they might be safe. That is not necessarily the case. Bringing a nurse into the room doesn’t mean that a potential situation for abuse will be deflected because of a couple of reasons. One, the abuse might be subtle or just missed by the nurse who is there to assist. Also, if the abuse is more overt, you cannot count on the nurse to report it or even be on your side. That nurse may view her job as to protect the doctor and his/her reputation.

As a result, below is a list of key points that both men and women can do to protect themselves in the examination room.

  1. If you can, request a physician that you feel most comfortable interacting with. For instance, if you are a woman and you feel as if you can confide in a woman physician regarding very personal issues, do so. Same with men. If you cannot fully disclose something because you do not feel comfortable with whom you are speaking with, then there is no point to the visit.
  2. Do not get pressured into unnecessary examinations such as genital, breast and rectal exams if it is in no way related to the issue you went in for. If you go into the doctorsbecause you have a sore throat and they insist that it might be prudent to expand the examination to private areas, you are well within your right to refuse. These types of exams are typically unnecessary unless there is a very specific problem relating to those areas of the body.
  3. Don’t undress and put on a medical gown unless it is absolutely necessary. In a lot of situations, adorning a gown makes people feel exposed and unable to maintain a level of modesty that allows them to feel comfortable. With that in mind, for many routine visits you can keep your clothes on and the doctors can just ask you to roll up a sleeve to get blood pressure or lift up the back of the shirt a bit to listen to your breathing.
  4. If anything makes you feel uncomfortable during the exam, ask questions, speak up and have them stop.
  5. Take along a trusted person, preferably a spouse or significant other. This is especially crucial for more sensitive procedures, especially if you will have to be anesthetized or hospitalized.
  6. If a doctors insist on a catheter be inserted, refuse the procedure unless it is 100% necessary. For one, these are often unnecessary and if it is absolutely essential to your treatment, insist on having a member of the same gender insert the equipment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but use this as a starting point to analyze your surroundings and judge your safety. Always remember to trust your gut instinct, and if you think you should leave, do so.

If you have found yourself to have been sexually abused or assaulted, report it immediately to the front desk or receptionist. Then, call the police, report the incident and get a copy of the police report.

You will also want to alert your state’s medical board for which you can find a link here. Afterword, you may also want to speak with a law firm to discuss your legal options, not only because of the suffering but if you require treatment, those expenses can be covered. You need to hold the doctor and the office or hospital in which they work morally and financially accountable.

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