This site is intended for health professionals only

Complaints linked to ‘misunderstandings’

30 August 2011

Share this article

A lack of communication between patients and GPs is a common factor in allegations of inappropriate touching, according to medicolegal experts.

The latest NHS figures show the most common reason for GP complaints during 2010-11 relate to clinical service.

Dr Richard Stacey, an adviser for the Medical Protection Society (MPS), outlined examples of the types of examinations that give rise to allegations against doctors for inappropriate touching.

One such example is when a doctor is examining for swollen lymph nodes where an infection or malignancy is suspected, as this often involves examining the intimate armpit and groin areas.

Dr Stacey said GPs can sometimes be so focused on obtaining the clinical findings that they “overlook” the need to explain the nature and purpose of the examination and seek agreement from the patient.

“Misunderstandings of legitimate clinical examinations are not uncommon, but can be avoided,” he said.

“What might be obvious and necessary to the doctor may not be apparent or understood by the patient.”

Empathetic explanations of examinations coupled with an apology can prevent a patient escalating a complaint and restore the doctor-patient relationship, added Dr Stacey.

As well as enhancing communication with patients, the MPS recommends doctors ensure there are trained chaperones available, particularly for intimate examinations or vulnerable patients.

Doctors are also advised to record when there was a chaperone present, and who it was, and help make patients aware of their right to request a chaperone and the role they play.