New guidelines on sexual boundaries

Janet Harry

13/12/2018 11:20:00 AM

MDA National medico-legal adviser Janet Harry looks at the revised guidelines.

An unwarranted physical examination may constitute sexual assault under the new guidelines.
An unwarranted physical examination may constitute sexual assault under the new guidelines.

From yesterday, revised guidelines published by the Medical Board came into effect and apply to all Australian medical practitioners.
Sexual misconduct is an abuse of the doctor–patient relationship and can cause significant and lasting harm to patients.
The revised guidelines emphasise that the foundation of the doctor–patient relationship is trust, and note that good, clear communication is the most effective way to avoid misunderstandings in the doctor–patient relationship.
In our experience, at the core of many complaints about potential sexual misconduct is a miscommunication or misunderstanding between the doctor and the patient as to the nature and purpose of a physical examination.
Some of the key changes in the revised guidelines include:

  • patient consent is required if medical students or anyone else is to be present during an examination or consultation
  • advice that an unwarranted physical examination may constitute sexual assault – this includes conducting or allowing others, such as students, to conduct examinations on anaesthetised patients, when the patient has not given explicit consent
  • a new section on social media in accordance with the Medical Board’s Social media policy
  • replacing the term ‘chaperone’ with the term ‘observer’ to reflect the advice and principles in Professor Ron Paterson’s report: Independent review of the use of chaperones to protect patients in Australia.  
This blog contains general information only. MDA National recommends practitioners contact their medical defence organisation or insurer when they require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.
This article first appeared on MDA National’s Medico-legal Blog (subscribe here) and is reproduced with its permission.

Guidelines Medical board Sexual boundaries

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