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  • Study: Ignoring Inappropriate Patient Sexual Behavior Doesn’t Work, but Other Strategies Might

    Inappropriate patient sexual behavior (IPSB) is a problem in health care, but researchers have pinpointed some concrete strategies for responding to these incidents, according to a study in PTJ e-published ahead of print. While several of these strategies can be used by the clinician during treatment, authors say less-than-stellar incident reporting outcomes and lack of administrative support “demonstrate a clear opportunity for the profession to improve.”

    The release of this study happens to coincide with action last week by APTA’s House of Delegates to strengthen the association’s position on sexual harassment in all forms, including encouraging incidents of harassment to be reported, with permission of the affected individual, to ensure that others are not similarly harmed.

    Funded by the APTA Section on Women’s Health, the study follows up a 2017 survey of PTs, PTAs, and students that found 84% experienced IPSB—47% in the previous year. In the prior study, authors defined IPSB as a range of behaviors, "from leering and sexual remarks to deliberate touch, indecent exposure, and sexual assault." Physical therapy clinicians were more likely to experience IPSB if they were female, treating mostly male patients, or newer to the profession.

    Researchers surveyed 1,027 members of APTA specialty sections and students in PT and PTA education programs to learn how individuals who experienced IPSB responded to it, and if those responses were effective at mitigating the problem.

    Similar to the previous survey, 38% had experienced IPSB. The participants described a variety of responses, from simply ignoring the patient’s behavior to documenting and reporting it to management. Respondents who are younger (under age 40) and less experienced (students or clinicians with less than 10 years of experience) were more likely to ignore IPSB. The less experienced group also were more likely to respond by joking with patients. Respondents younger than 40 were more likely to ignore IPBS, while students and newer Not surprisingly, ignoring inappropriate sexual behavior—a strategy used by more than 70% of respondents—was not found to be a successful response.

    Respondents also identified strategies that, according to them, significantly improved the situation more than half the time. They include:

    • Distraction
    • Choosing a more public place for treatment or a different treatment method
    • Direct confrontation
    • Establishing a behavioral contract with the patient
    • Transferring care to a different clinician
    • Using a chaperone

    Authors suggest that clinicians be educated on “assertive communication and redirection strategies” but add that the changes shouldn't stop there.

    There is a “need for clear workplace policies coupled with training for managers and supervisors to support clinicians in resolving IPSB,” authors write. They encourage practices to establish policies on using behavioral contracts and warning letters, chaperones, and transfer of care in response to IPSB.

    (Editor's Note: Articles e-published ahead of print are not the final version. The final version of this article will be published in the September issue of PTJ.)

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    Comments

    • I had to constantly pull a second person to treat a bed ridden patient who was a room mated of my personal sexual harasser. I finally refused to treat that patient whom I spend one year with. My rehab director refused my open requests in meetings for a change.

      Posted by allen christenson on 7/2/2018 9:08 PM

    • Your Director acted inappropriately, The Human resources professional in your work environment should be your next step if harassment is occurring and you report it to your immediate supervisor and nothing is done.

      Posted by Michael Tisbe on 7/5/2018 7:37 AM

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