Chaperones may protect both doctor and patient
PRACTICES must develop formal guidelines on the use of chaperones, medical defence organisations have warned, if GPs are to be protected from claims of misconduct.
The warning follows the release of the Medical Board of Western Australia’s annual report, which notes the board received 245 complaints from December 2008 to July 2009.
Thirty-three of these alleged unprofessional conduct, 15 alleged lack of courtesy, six alleged rough treatment, three related to a sexual violation, two related to unspecified assaults and one related to sexual impropriety.
MIGA risk services manager Liz Fitzgerald said the use of chaperones gave GPs some protection from misunderstandings or malicious allegations.
Chaperones, she said, could be useful in a number of situations, such as intimate examinations.
It was important to recognise who could take on the role, she said. Clinical staff, not receptionists, were most appropriate, and even the patient’s friends or relatives were poor choices.
It was also crucial for GPs to document the presence of a chaperone.
“Obviously every practice is different, and if you are a solo practitioner then it might [be difficult], but in larger practices, guidelines make it really easy for staff to know what the best practice is,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Avant claims manager Lisa Clarke said misinterpretation of a GP’s action was less likely when chaperones were present, but the best defence was good communication.
But Dr Mac Wyllie, member of the AMA ethics and medico-legal committee, did not believe chaperones were necessary.
“I think the public trusts us to do the right thing, and that’s the most important thing,” he said.