Does a Chaperone Policy Benefit Your Medical Practice?

While only a few states mandate situations where a chaperone is required, it is important to understand these policies and their potential benefits. In fact, chaperone policies could add more value to your medical practice than you may think.

Implementing a chaperone policy in your medical practice could add more value than you think. While only a few states mandate situations where a chaperone is required, it is important to understand a chaperone policy and discuss your state’s regulations with your attorney.

The American Medical Association (AMA) published an opinion, which was adopted in 1998, on the use of chaperones during physical exams. In this opinion, the AMA recommends having authorized health professionals (not clerical staff) available to chaperone on a consistent basis.

The benefits of a chaperone policy

When a chaperone policy is used regularly and is understood by staff and patients, it helps support the presence of a second qualified health professional in the exam room. This additional professional is able to observe the behavior of both the physician and the patient.

A chaperone policy should offer reassurance to a patient that you are sensitive to his/her need for comfort, confidentiality and privacy. Therefore, such policies also give you the opportunity to reaffirm the professional nature of your exams.

A chaperone policy should:

  • State that only health professionals will serve as chaperones.
  • Discourage family members from serving as chaperones because:
    • Health professionals are held to a higher confidentiality standard.
    • Health professionals reaffirm the formal, professional nature of the exam.
    • Family members may be more willing to support allegations of impropriety against a physician or physician extender.
  • Ensure that an authorized health professional is also in attendance if a patient insists on a family member chaperone.
  • Offer chaperones to all patients regardless of gender. Often, chaperones are offered to patients who are of the opposite sex of the physician. This thinking is outdated.
  • Require that the chaperone’s name is documented in patient records.
  • Include the process if a patient refuses a chaperone when the physician feels one is necessary. This could include documenting the refusal and discussing alternate options such as rescheduling.
  • Include the process if a chaperone is unavailable. The patient has a right to refuse treatment in this case. The physician should discuss the risk(s) of refusing care, provide alternatives, and document the situation.

In regards to a chaperone policy and your staff:

  • Educate your staff on the policy and their role, as they may be asked to chaperone.
  • Ensure that your staff chaperones are:
    • Able to reassure a patient if he/she shows signs of distress or discomfort.
    • Familiar with examination procedures.
    • Present for the entire exam and can see what the physician is doing, if practical.
    • Prepared to voice any concerns he/she has with a physician’s behavior or actions.
  • Keep sensitive inquiries to a minimum during chaperoned examinations. You should provide patients with a separate opportunity for private conversation with the physician.

In addition, be sure that your patients are aware of the chaperone policy. Your office literature should highlight the availability of chaperones, and your intake professionals should review this information with patients.

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