Addressing Sexual Harassment From Patients or Third Parties

QUESTION

How can my chiropractic practice address issues related to sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by patients or their family members?

 

ANSWER

Sexual harassment and other types of inappropriate behavior from patients and third parties (e.g., patients’ family members, friends, or caregivers) is not unusual in a chiropractic practice.

 

Complicating this serious issue is the unique dynamic between patients and chiropractors, particularly in situations in which (a) chiropractors are legally or ethically obligated to provide treatment, or (b) patients’ inappropriate behaviors reflect a medical condition, such as dementia or a psychotic episode.  To navigate this complex dilemma, chiropractic practices should proactively plan for harassment scenarios. Consider the following strategies:

 

  • Ensure your practice’s harassment policies include information and procedures related to harassment from patients and third parties.

  • Support a culture of safety and well-being that encourages individuals to report all instances of harassment they experience or witness. Make employees aware that their safety is a top priority.

  • Empower chiropractors and other staff members to say “no” and voice their discomfort if patients or other third parties act inappropriately.

  • Develop incident response procedures for handling reports of sexual harassment, and ensure employees understand the process for reporting incidents. Incident procedures might include:

    • Having a designated individual talk with the patient or third party about his/her behavior or actions.

    • Requiring additional chiropractors or staff members to be present during interactions with the harassing patient or third party.

    • Reassigning the patient to other chiropractors or staff members (e.g., reassigning a male patient to a male caregiver if a female caregiver is being harassed).

    • Restricting the patient’s access to certain areas within the facility and/or closely monitoring the patient’s behavior.

    • Advising the patient to find another source of care or terminating the provider–patient relationship. (Note: This strategy is not applicable in all situations or care settings.)

    • Contacting law enforcement in cases resulting in physical or sexual assault or other criminal activity (e.g., stalking).

    • Reinforce to chiropractors and other staff that harassment by patients and third parties is as serious as harassment from within the practice. Ensure chiropractors and other staff are aware of the practice’s legal and ethical responsibility to protect employees.

  • Educate all employees about the practice’s zero-tolerance policy for all forms of discrimination and harassment. Emphasize the expectation that employees will report harassment they experience or witness immediately.

  • Reinforce employee trust in practice leaders and processes by following transparent protocols and ensuring all incidents are handled promptly and consistently.

RESOURCES

[1] Chuck, E. (2018, February 21). For nurses, sexual harassment from patients is 'par for the course.' NBC News. Retrieved from www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sexual-misconduct/nurses-sexual-harassment-patients-par-course-n848086; Cheney, C. (2018, June 4). 4 ideas to stop harassment by patients. HealthLeaders Media. Retrieved from www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/4-ideas-stop-harassment-patients

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