Objectives: We sought to evaluate child, parent and medical provider preferences for chaperones for outpatient encounters and to evaluate the acceptability and frequency of utilization following institution of a chaperone policy. Secondarily, we sought to understand what medical history and examinations teens consider "sensitive."
Design: We conducted an observational study 1 month before and 1 month after institution of outpatient clinic chaperone policy. Post clinic questionnaires were used for patients > or =12 years old, parents, and clinicians. A research assistant observed chaperone use.
Setting: Adolescent Medicine, Urology, and Rehabilitation Clinics at a regional, tertiary-care pediatric hospital, in a major metropolitan area were studied.
Participants: Convenience sample: 117 clinic patients during control period and 119 after policy implementation.
Main outcome measures: Preferences for and satisfaction with chaperone use were documented.
Results: Although non-parent chaperones were usually declined (99.6%), offers were appreciated. Non-parent chaperone use increased modestly (5.3-18.1%). Most patients preferred not to have non-parent chaperones. This preference was greater among older patients (88%), than early teens (52%). After experiencing sensitive examinations, more young adolescent patients (89%) wished their parent had been present than older patients (38%). Patients' opinions about what constitutes "sensitive" questions and examinations and chaperone preferences varied widely. Providers often did not recognize issues patients and parents considered sensitive questioning (21% agreement), but recognized sensitive physical examinations better (74% agreement). Providers felt chaperones had been a detriment to examination and exams would have gone better without one only 1% of the time.
Conclusions: Although usually declined, offers of chaperones were appreciated and use of non-parent chaperones increased modestly. Offering chaperones for sensitive examinations may remind providers about appropriate, respectful patient encounters. Implications for children's hospitals' patient safety and satisfaction, and institutional staff protection and costs are significant.
Practice implications: Questions and examinations which patients consider sensitive vary widely. Asking patients for their preferences for examination chaperones may reassure them about the appropriateness of examinations, remind staff to conduct respectful examinations and protect providers from accusations of impropriety. Since most chaperone offers are declined, the cost of asking is likely to be minimal.