Patients who have surgical procedures like an appendectomy don’t have any reason to expect that while they’re anesthetized, they may also be getting a pelvic or prostate exam from a medical student. However, in most states, that’s legal.
Increasingly, lawmakers in those states – including Ohio – are working to change that. They want to prohibit medical personnel from allowing “intimate” exams to be conducted on patients while they’re under anesthesia if they’re unrelated to their surgical procedure — or at least to require their informed written consent first.
Some surgical consent forms include a provision that notes that procedures may be done for “educational” purposes. However, patients may not imagine that this would include such an invasive and intimate examination that has nothing to do with their medical issues.
How would the Ohio legislation change things? The bill that’s being considered by Ohio lawmakers says that “an advanced practice registered nurse or a student…shall not perform, or authorize another individual to perform, an intimate examination on an anesthetized or unconscious patient” without “specific, informed consent.”
An “intimate” exam is defined as a pelvic, prostate or rectal exam. As noted, this wouldn’t apply to exams that are “required for diagnostic purposes or treatment of the patient’s medical condition.”
These unauthorized exams often go unreported
Just how often unauthorized intimate exams of anesthetized patients are performed for teaching purposes only can’t be known. Most patients are never aware that it happened. Those who do know or suspect that something happened are often hesitant to say anything.
Meanwhile, medical and nursing students are traditionally taught to just follow orders and not question doctors or nurses who are overseeing their training. They fear the consequences of coming forward, even if they find out that what they were instructed to do violates the law.
While these intimate exams may be no different than any other kind of exam for medical professionals, most patients see them as a necessary but highly uncomfortable and even embarrassing part of their health care. Having such an exam without their knowledge or informed consent and for which they weren’t even conscious can leave a person feeling violated – and even injured if it wasn’t done properly. If this has happened to you or a loved one, it’s worth finding out what legal options you may have.