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Federal government issues new guidelines for pelvic exam patient consent

HHS credits reporting like I-Team's coverage for Monday's action
pelvic exam without consent
Posted at 8:09 PM, Apr 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 21:30:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Monday, the federal government issued new recommendations that require hospitals to get consent before conducting intimate exams on patients, especially those under anesthesia.

The KSHB 41 I-Team has extensively reported on this practice for a year-and-a-half, and our coverage led to Missouri passing a law banning pelvic exams without consent.

RELATED Without consent part 2: What local lawmakers are doing about pelvic exams without consent

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said if hospitals want its students to practice a pelvic exam on someone, they must have processes in place to get informed consent from the patient first.

Advocates say this should have been in place all along but are nonetheless calling this move a victory.

In our previous reporting, we learned that doctors-in-training have practiced these exams, most often pelvic, on anesthetized patients as a teaching tool.

Some students said this didn't sit right with them but didn't know how to speak up.

Many patients wouldn't know it happened to them at all because it's not part of their medical care and merely for the educational benefit of the student.

We spoke with Ashley Weitz, who, in 2007, received a pelvic exam she didn't consent to, which left her feeling extremely violated.

However, that experience lead to advocacy work and she testified in multiple state legislatures, including Kansas and Missouri, to help pass laws requiring consent.

We checked in with Weitz on Monday, who says it's a relief that the federal government is providing a framework for accountability.

"It's incredibly validating. It's a huge relief," Weitz said. "Putting this into CMS rule, I think, is the most effective and also it doesn't leave it up for discussion. Patient autonomy is not up for discussion."

HHS credits reporting like the I-Team's coverage for today's actions.

A spokesperson told us hospitals around the country received a letter detailing the recommendations on Monday.

If hospitals do not have consent policies and processes in place, they could lose Medicare funding.

The guidelines say CMS "surveyors must ensure that a hospital's patient informed consent policy and process, as well as it's informed consent forms, contain elements and information that allow for a patient, or his or her representative, to make fully informed decisions about their care."

Hospitals could lose Medicare funding if they do not comply.

"Continuing to empower patients and providers to have these conversations is really good," Weitz said. "It's really positive."