By: David Davidson
As of July 1, 2020, all Florida health care providers, and providers in training, are now required to obtain written consent from their patients (or their legal representatives) before performing a pelvic exam. The only exceptions to this requirement are when the exam is done pursuant to a court order, or in cases of emergency. Given the broad application of the new law, it is imperative for any provider who may need to perform a pelvic exam on a patient, even if it’s a fairly rare occurrence, to be ready to obtain the consent.
The law grew out of concerns for improper actions taken against sedated patients. And as initially proposed, it only covered pelvic exams performed in training settings. However, the legislature expanded the scope to include all settings and all providers.
The new law has been praised for the additional protections it provides to patients. However, it does have its critics. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a statement opposing the law, calling it an “intrusion in the patient-physician relationship,” and pledging to work to repeal the requirement. While recognizing the problems the law is intended to address, ACOG believes the legislation is burdensome and strikes at patient autonomy.
There is no doubt that this new requirement will have an impact on patient care settings in Florida. Certain specialties, such as OB/GYN and urology, will likely be able to successfully incorporate the requirement into their standard consent process since a pelvic exam is likely part of the standard of care for most of their patients. Other providers, such as family medicine physicians, whose patient population requires pelvic exams on a less-regular basis, will still need to be ready to obtain written consent when the standard of care dictates such an examination. Failure to obtain the written consent can result in disciplinary actions against the provider, despite the medical necessity of the examination. Advance preparation for these patients is therefore essential.