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'Chaperones' shadow some Iowa doctors accused of sexual misconduct

Iowa women should be told if their doctors are required to have female "chaperones" present at their appointments because of past sexual misconduct, a leading advocate for sex-assault victims said.

State regulators sometimes order such arrangements after doctors, chiropractors or other health care professionals are accused of improper sexual actions or remarks toward patients or co-workers. The orders are posted on state websites, but the doctors are not required to tell each patient why they're being shadowed by a female nurse or other staff member.

Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in an interview that such notifications should be routinely required. “It’s just fair to the patient,” she said. “They should know.”

The latest examples of the chaperone practice came this week, when the Iowa Board of Medicine ordered two male physicians to be shadowed by female health care professionals in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against patients and co-workers. In a third case, a doctor who had previously been ordered to have a chaperone surrendered his medical license in the wake of a new allegation that he sent inappropriate Facebook messages and text messages to a patient.

...Barnhill said she hopes the national spotlight on [Larry] Nassar’s case raises patients’ awareness that they can speak up if a doctor or other health care provider does or says something inappropriate. But she worries that the attention will be fleeting, and she said health care providers who have committed serious misconduct should be barred from practicing. “Sometimes, it would be better to have them just lose their license,” she said.

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