Physical Therapist, Physical Therapist Assistant, and Student Response to Inappropriate Patient Sexual Behavior: Results of a National Survey.

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Physical therapy


Background: A recent survey found that 84% of physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, and student respondents experienced inappropriate patient sexual behavior (IPSB) over their careers and 47% over the prior 12 months. Prevalence data justify consideration of how to address IPSB.

Objective: The objective was to determine how physical therapist clinicians (used here to mean physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students) address IPSB and examine strategy impact.

Design: The design was observational and cross-sectional.

Methods: Several sections of the American Physical Therapy Association and selected education programs fielded the electronic survey. Respondents reported on IPSB strategy frequency and effect. Response-strategy impact was tested for statistical significance. Open-ended comments were analyzed using qualitative methods.

Results: Of 1027 respondents, 396 had experienced IPSB over the prior 12 months; 391 provided data on the frequency and effect of response strategies used. Common informal responses included distraction, ignoring IPSB, and altering treatment to avoid physical contact or being alone. Common formal responses included reporting the behavior within the facility and documenting the behavior. Successful strategies included distraction, avoidance, direct confrontation, behavioral contracts, transfer of care, and chaperone use. Experienced clinicians were more likely to be direct, whereas novice clinicians were more likely to engage in unsuccessful actions of ignoring and joking.

Limitations: Limitations included self-report, clinician memory, and convenience sampling.

Conclusions: The first findings in 20 years on physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, and student response to IPSB provide direction for the profession. Results indicate a need for clear workplace policies coupled with training for managers and supervisors to support clinicians in resolving IPSB. Policies on using behavioral contracts, chaperones, and transfer of care could empower staff to consider these successful options. Professional education and training for all physical therapy professionals on assertive communication and redirection strategies with IPSB appears warranted.


Physical Therapy

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