Every couple of years I encounter the story of how a colleague gets accused of something in the media.  Sometimes these articles have merit and sometimes these articles are and turn out to be blatantly incorrect.  Regardless, they are always shocking and and damaging to the physician’s career.  It is interesting that these situations are handled in many different ways and throughout residency we are not given any formal media training.  There was a very helpful article in the March 2016 issue of EP Monthly regarding how to handle allegations of professional misconduct or impropriety.

His first thoughts involve prevention

1.  Use a chaperone whenever possible.  Scribes also can fit that bill.

2.  Maintain privacy but not seclusion.  Close the curtain but keep the door open.

3. Maintain separation.  Leave the patient covered and gowned as much as possible.  Using gloves can also infer professionalness

4.  Allow patients to opt-out of sensitive parts of the exam if not clinically crucial.  Ideally have them sign an informed refusal.

5.  Follow hospital policies and procedures with regard to chaperones and confidentiality.

With regard to dealing with an accusation.

1.  Hire appropriate attorney(s) to deal with the allegations and potential criminal charges

2.  Don’t respond or issue a simple denial

Keep in mind that HIPAA prevents disclosure of a patient’s protected health information unless a permissible use under either 45 CFR 164.502 or 45 C.F.R. § 164.512 exists. Responding to allegations of impropriety in the media is not included within HIPAA’s permissible uses of protected health information. In addition, hospital policies often forbid health providers from discussing patient care issues online or in the media. If questioned about accusations online or in the media, the safest response is either no response at all, a simple denial of the allegations, or a referral to the hospital administration or to your attorney for comment. Do not be baited into attacking the accuser or providing unauthorized disclosure of the accuser’s protected health information

3. Consider hiring a PR specialist

4.  Inform your medical malpractice carrier

5.  Consider hiring personal for family crisis counseling services.

From the article by William Sullivan, MD, JD:

Even when completely false, accusations of inappropriate conduct or impropriety can ruin a physician’s career. Here are five strategies for staying above reproach. The recent arrest of a prominent emergency physician after accusations of inappropriate behaviors while treating patients in an emergency department have left many of us confused and on edge. Read More

Source: When the Curtain is Drawn: How to Handle Accusations of Professional Misconduct – Emergency Physicians Monthly