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Position Statements

Guidelines for avoiding misunderstandings during physical examinations

 Categories:  Ethics and Professionalism   Adopted: May 1991  | Amended: Jun 2010  Print Friendly Version  |   Share this item

It is the position of the North Carolina Medical Board that proper care and sensitivity are needed during physical examinations to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to charges of sexual misconduct against licensees. In order to prevent such misunderstandings, the Board offers the following guidelines.

  • Sensitivity to patient dignity should be considered by the licensee when undertaking a physical examination. The patient should be assured of adequate auditory and visual privacy and should never be asked to disrobe in the presence of the licensee. Examining rooms should be safe, clean, and well maintained, and should be equipped with appropriate furniture for examination and treatment. Gowns, sheets and/or other appropriate apparel should be made available to protect patient dignity and decrease embarrassment to the patient while a thorough and professional examination is conducted.
  • Whatever the sex of the patient, a third party, a staff member, should be readily available at all times during a physical examination, and it is strongly advised that a third party be present when the licensee performs an examination of the breast(s), genitalia, or rectum. It is the physician’s responsibility to have a staff member available at any point during the examination.
  • The licensee should individualize the approach to physical examinations so that each patient’s apprehension, fear, and embarrassment are diminished as much as possible. An explanation of the necessity of a complete physical examination, the components of that examination, and the purpose of disrobing may be necessary in order to minimize the patient’s possible misunderstanding.
  • The licensee and staff should exercise the same degree of professionalism and care when performing diagnostic procedures (eg, electro- cardiograms, electromyograms, endoscopic procedures, and radiological studies, etc), as well as during surgical procedures and postsurgical follow-up examinations when the patient is in varying stages of consciousness.
  • The licensee should be on the alert for suggestive or flirtatious behavior or mannerisms on the part of the patient and should not permit a compromising situation to develop.