1 in 4 Docs Report Sexual Harassment by Patients

More than 1 in 4 doctors told Medscape Medical News in a recent survey that they have been sexually harassed by a patient within the past 3 years.

The 27% of doctors reporting the harassment is nearly four times higher than the 7% of doctors who said they had been sexually harassed by colleagues or administrators in the workplace, an analysis of the survey data shows.

In the Patients Sexually Harassing Physicians Report 2018, published July 11, doctors said the most common form of harassment was a patient acting in an overtly sexual manner toward them (17%), followed by patients repeatedly asking for a date (9%) and patients trying to touch, grope, or grab them (7%). In all three categories, the harassment happened more frequently to female doctors.

A much smaller percentage of doctors (2%) reported that patients asked for a sexual encounter or sent sexual emails, letters, or provocative photos of themselves.

Slideshow: Patients Sexually Harassing Physicians Survey 2018

Respondents gave examples of the harassment.”A patient made a comment that he was going to grab my breasts if I caused pain to him while removing his nasal packing,” one female doctor commented in the survey.

Another female doctor commented, “I had a patient who continually had the need to expose his genitalia to myself and female staff members. He tried to be intimidating in that he would attempt to link the exposure to a medical problem, when there never was one.”

Types of Harassment Measured

Included in the survey’s definition of sexual harassment, abuse, or misconduct were unwanted sexual texts/emails, comments about body parts, propositions to engage in sexual activity, being asked repeatedly for a date, offer of a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor, threats of punishment for refusal of a sexual favor, deliberately infringing on body space, unwanted groping/hugging/physical contact, deliberate self-fondling, grabbing body parts, and rape.

Sexual Harassment By Patients: How Doctors Handle It

Reactions to inappropriate behaviors differed significantly by gender. Female doctors were much more likely to report they told the patient no or to stop than male doctors were (62% vs. 39%). Female doctors were also more likely than their male peers to dismiss a patient from their practice (11% vs. 6%). Men, on the other hand, were more likely than women to make sure they were no longer alone with the patient (61% vs. 51%).

When asked about reactions after the patient tried to touch, grope, or rub against them, 71% of female doctors told patients to stop, compared with 43% of male doctors.

“You have to be tactful in not offending your patient but quickly get out of the situation and get rid of that patient, because they could accuse you of harassment,” a male doctor wrote in his responses.

By specialty, dermatology had the highest percentage of patient harassment, at 46%, followed by emergency medicine (43%) and plastic surgery/aesthetic medicine (41%). Radiology and pathology had the lowest percentages, at 10% and 11%, respectively.

Doctors gave a few examples of what they have said following inappropriate behavior by patients.”I’ve advised patients to keep the visit professional and they have obliged,” one said.

Another said, “I was polite in my denial, reported incidents to my supervisor, who assigned patient care to another provider and spoke with the patient to discontinue attempts or he would be excused from the practice.”

Overall, 6,235 clinicians across 29 specialties responded to the survey. Of those, 3,711 doctors were included in this report. The margin of error was ±1.61% at a 95% confidence interval using a point estimate of 50%.

Recent Posts

  • Researchers at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology have developed a glue gun to put the human body back together when it has been seriously injured. The pins and stitches currently used to treat serious injuries come with drawbacks: They can be painful, they leave scars, they require high skill from the doctor, and they sometimes have to be removed after the tissues heal. Suture on the intestine, lungs or blood vessels often leak and therefore require a sealant. The medical glue that the researchers have developed is a “two in one,” said Prof. Boaz Mizrahi, head of the Biomaterials Laboratory of the Technion. It replaces both stitches and the sealant, and is good for both external and internal injuries, he said. All sorts of medical glues are already being used in dermatology, surgery, and other areas. Israeli startup Nanomedic Technologies Ltd., for example, has developed a medical device that it says can dress burns and other wounds with nano materials that mimic human tissue and peel off once the skin below is regenerated. Still, the glues currently in use to replace sutures and staples are limited by their mechanical properties and toxicity, the researchers said. Because they are very toxic, they can be utilized only on the surface of the skin. In addition, hardening of the glue may make the organ less flexible or the adhesion may not be sufficiently strong. With these limitations in mind, researchers have been on the hunt for a glue that is suitable for different tissues, nontoxic, and flexible after hardening. Such a glue would also need to decompose in the body after the tissue is fused together. Mizrahi worked together with doctoral student Alona Shagan and came up with what they say is a “very strong, nontoxic tissue adhesive that remains flexible even after solidification.” Their study...
  • Pinnacle Ventures has launched a pharmacogenomics programme to enable genetic testing to drive personalised prescribing decisions. The innovation arm of Pinnacle Midlands Health Network, a not-for-profit primary health care management company in New Zealand, is also working on embedding biomarker information into electronic health records and linking it to a clinical-decision support prescribing tool that can help prescribers by providing direct access to international pathways and guidelines. Pharmacogenetics involves prescriptions being tailored to a person’s genetic make-up, as people metabolise drugs in different ways, which can have a significant impact on a drug’s effectiveness. Ventures plans to do about 5,000 pharmacogenetic tests over the next 12 months, says chief executive John Macaskill-Smith. Some will be self-funded because individuals are struggling with their medications and others will be fully funded by Ventures, targeting specific groups within the Midlands population. Macaskill-Smith says it is a simple test that covers 65–70 per cent of medications frequently prescribed in New Zealand. “The New Zealand health system is under strain but using testing like this you could reduce the trial and error of prescribing and prevent adverse reactions to medications,” he said. Ethnicity plays a big part in how a person metabolises drugs, but the clinical trials that prescribing information are based on very rarely involve Māori or Pasifika test subjects. Macaskill-Smith said Ventures is partnering with key kiwi groups, Auckland University and Otago University medical schools and Callaghan Innovation to support research and develop a better understanding of how unique New Zealand populations respond to different medications. People who have a pharmacogenetic test can choose to consent to contributing their non-identifiable demographic information to researchers. Embedding the biomarker information into EHRs ensures a patient’s results are used for both current and future prescribing decisions, he said. Macaskill-Smith says a lot of direct-to-consumer online genetic-testing tools involve people...
  • Surgery students spend so much time on screens that they have lost the ability to perform simple tasks such as stitching and sewing up patients, a professor has warned. Roger Kneebone, a professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says the focus on academic knowledge has come at the expense of craftsmanship. “It is important and an increasingly urgent issue,” Kneebone told the BBC. “It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things – cutting things out, making things – that is no longer the case.” The professor, who teaches surgery to medical students, believes that this is down to an increase in technology which takes away the experience of handling materials and developing skills. ”An obvious example is of a surgeon needing some dexterity and skill in sewing or stitching,” he explained. ”A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen” Kneebone adds that a growing number of students are becoming “less competent and less confident” in using their hands, resulting in young professionals who “have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge”. The professor will be speaking on Tuesday at the V&A Museum of Childhood in east London, at the launch of a report, published by the Edge Foundation, calling for more creativity in the curriculum. The report warns that entries to creative subjects have fallen by 20 per cent since 2010, including a 57 per cent fall in design and technology GCSE. Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who will be speaking alongside Professor Kneebone added: “Creativity is not just for artists. “Subjects like design and technology, music, art and drama are vitally important for...