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How to Keep Children Safe from Abuse at the Doctor’s Office

Given the recent news surrounding the sexual molestation crimes of Lawrence G. Nassar, who served as a doctor for the American gymnastics team, many parents have questions about how they can keep their children safe from abuse at the doctor’s office. According to a recent article in The New York Times, physicians are supposed to treat and heal, not inflict serious harm. While some incidents of abuse may be obvious to parents—and even to children—others might not be so clear. According to the article, “detecting sexual abuse in a medical setting can be challenging.” What can parents do to ensure that their kids are safe when they visit a doctor? And how can a medical malpractice lawyer help?

Parents Should Trust Their Instincts

While it might not seem particularly scientific, advocates recommend that parents trust their instincts about a particular doctor or doctor’s office visit. Since there can be legitimate, medical reasons for a physician to touch/examine a child’s genitals, this type of contact could also be an indicator of abuse. As such, parents should trust themselves if they think something is wrong. As the article underscores, if parents are “alarmed by a health provider’s practices,” they should “question the doctor, get another opinion, or switch doctors.” What are some practices that should put a parent on alert? Consider some of the following cited in the article:

  • Frequent genital exams;
  • Unconventional medical treatments that involve genital manipulation;
  • Genital exams when the medical complaint does not warrant a genital exam;
  • Genital exams that take a particularly long time;
  • Disregard for rules about using gloves during sensitive exams;
  • Having an adult chaperone present during a child’s exam; or
  • Inappropriate jokes or comments.

A study published in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, reported that a large number of sexual abuse cases in the healthcare setting involve male physicians who are practicing in nonacademic settings, and who often examine patients alone.

Listen to Your Children If They Talk About Discomfort or Distress

In addition to trusting their own instincts, parents should also listen to their kids. If your child feels uncomfortable, parents should react accordingly. Children’s physicians should go through each step of a procedure with the patient in order to make sure that patient feels at ease. If a doctor fails to do this and the child does not feel comfortable about an exam, the parents should start asking questions and should seek a second opinion.

According to Dr. Julia Potter, who is a specialist in adolescent medicine, kids “should not be made to feel that something is happening to their body that is out of their control.” She emphasizes that a pediatrician should respect a child when that child says, “I don’t want you to check my breasts,” or “I don’t want you to do a genital exam.”

Contact a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you do have concerns about a healthcare provider’s behavior, you should know that there are options. There are numerous organizations aimed at preventing child sexual abuse, and hospitals and administrators should be trained to evaluate a healthcare provider’s behavior when a parent files a complaint. And if you are worried that your child has been the victim of abuse, you should speak with a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Cohen, Placitella & Roth for more information.

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