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Patients, Medicine and Modesty in a Healthcare Setting

Why Medical Providers Often Disregard a Patient's Modesty

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Updated December 19, 2010

Why don't doctors and providers consider modesty in their patient care?

Let's use the analogy of auto care to explain why some doctors just don't understand patient modesty well.

If your car is having engine troubles and you it to a mechanic, the mechanic will lift the hood, poke around the engine, wiggle the belts, tighten a few screws or bolts, go back to the driver's seat, play with the controls, and by doing all that, he'll figure out what's wrong with your car, he'll know what needs to be done to fix it, and he'll perform the necessary procedures to make that repair.

Which is, of course, exactly what your doctor does.

Can you picture your car mechanic being concerned about exposing your car's engine or choosing not to fool with the controls because he's worried that your car will be embarrassed?

Unfortunately, once doctors get through medical school and training, including their work with older doctors who teach them how to treat patients, not all of them have been schooled in the finer points of taking care of human beings. Too often, human bodies are viewed not so differently from the way that mechanic views a car -- like something that requires repair without regard to the emotions and feelings that are an important part of working with people. It doesn't seem right or fair, but it's common.

Part of the reason providers don't involve themselves in a patient's emotions is because they are taught not to judge. Doctors and other healthcare workers learn to care for human bodies no matter what size they are, no matter what they look like, no matter how they smell or whether they work the way they should. If something is wrong, they are simply trained to fix it.

Most doctors and other providers won't judge their patients' body parts any more than they will judge their patients' hair or eye color or the length of their finger nails. Are there exceptions? Of course. Are there providers who make seeking care very uncomfortable? Yes, there certainly are. But as professionals, doctors just want to fix whatever is wrong, no matter how private their patients consider those parts.

Another reason some healthcare professionals don't regard modesty with any importance is because a patient's modesty may cost them time and money. Time -- because it's much quicker to do an exam or do a procedure without accommodating modesty. Money - because time is money, and because a supply of extra-large gowns, or larger exam tables, or any other equipment that accommodates some forms of modesty will simply cost them more.

That lack of respect for a person's emotions and feelings may be the fault of the individual doctor, the fault of the training he or she has received, a bad approach to patients developed over time, or a combination of all three.

But most offending providers don't realize they are violating someone's modesty, because patients have not let them know they feel embarrassed. In particular, because those patients who are most embarrassed, most modest, just don't show up at the doctor's office at all. The issue rarely comes up.

Modesty is a problem for patients, but is not really the fault of the healthcare system. A fear of being judged is something society in general imposes, making us patients feel embarrassed. Doctors are simply doing their jobs, so it will be up to us patients to be sure our modesty is taken into consideration.

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