States seek explicit patient consent for pelvic exams

Associated Press

Savanah Harshbarger estimates she performed as many as 10 pelvic exams last year on patients before gynecologic surgeries, feeling for fibroid tumors or other abnormalities.

The Duke University medical student said the experience was a revelation.

“It’s pretty empowering to know this is something you can detect with a gloved hand instead of needing an MRI or some more expensive procedure,” Harshbarger said.

What was not always clear to her was whether the patients had agreed ahead of time to have a student do the exam while they were under anesthesia. The consent form, Harshbarger said, “definitely does not mention any specific things a student might be doing. It’s fairly vague language.”

Lawmakers in several states want to make sure women needing surgery have a chance to say no to a medical student examining them while they’re under anesthesia.

Bills introduced in roughly a dozen states this year would require that women undergoing gynecological surgeries give explicit approval to a pelvic exam beforehand.

Patient consent for such exams has gained renewed attention given evolving cultural attitudes in the #MeToo era.

Utah became the seventh state overall to require specific consent. Similar bills have passed the legislatures in Maryland and New York.

Some medical experts say the proposals are unnecessary intrusions into patient care.

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