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Can I have a friend with me during an exam?

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Taylor asks:

Why is it that when I went with my friend to Planned Parenthood, they wouldn't let me go in the room with her even though that's the whole reason she brought me? I wanted to go in to see how it's like so I can possibly make an appt. for myself. But I'm scared and I want someone in with me. Will they allow it if I say I want my boyfriend or friend in there with me?

Heather Corinna replies:

Probably not, no.

There are a few reasons why this is the case.

One of them, particularly in clinics which also provide abortions, is an issue of simple security. It is dangerous to work in these clinics because of a history of in-clinic violence, and some time ago, one way people who did violence to other clients, doctors and healthcare workers at women's clinics was by posing as support people. So, they could then get into the clinic and assault or attack staff or other patients. Curbing that practice of allowing people into exam rooms who were not patients has made a big difference in reducing clinic violence.

Another common factor are patient confidentiality laws and policies. When a person is in with a client, that client often will not be as honest with their doctor or healthcare worker. For instance, it's really common for people to decline testing for sexually transmitted infections with partners around because they are worried their partner will think they have been cheating, or they will have to take a lot of guff for not "trusting" a partner. Same goes with friends: people are often pretty concerned about gossip and what friends think, so they'll often not be as honest as they would be when they were alone. As well, a doctor can't always disclose information about you TO you with another person present: in the states HIPAA laws limit what information about a patient can be made public to anyone other than staff and that patient.

The privacy and confidentiality of other patients in a clinic is also a factor, as is setting good precedents. When support people are always allowed in as a given, it can be easy for a young patient, for instance, to be pressured by a parent to let them in, and for a healthcare worker not to be able to know that that patient really doesn't want that other person there.

Not all clinics and doctors have these policies, so if it's vital to you to have a support person with you, just call around and ask. You'll usually have more luck with that with private gynecologists than at public clinic. But too, know that nurses and assistants are also there to help with scared or anxious clients. They're trained to help you out with that, to be sure and answer any questions you have in advance of or during an exam, and to do their level best to make you comfortable.

written 29 Mar 2008 . updated 29 Mar 2008

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