Patients as Victims of Elder Abuse: Your Obligations

Q. A call was received from a gastroenterologist regarding a 69-year-old patient who is currently living at home. At the conclusion of a procedure, the patient was asked if she felt safe at home and she responded that she did not; however, she was adamant that she did not want to leave her home. She was given information regarding elder abuse that included contact information for reporting and services. The physician documented all discussions in the patient’s medical record. Does our physician have an obligation to report this situation to adult protective services?

A. In New York State, healthcare workers are mandatory reporters, and they are required to report their suspicions of elder abuse. In response to the above scenario, it will be important to gather some additional information to properly advise the physician, such as whether any abuse was indicated during an exam and whether anyone else is living in the home. However, if the physician suspects elder abuse, then he/she should immediately contact Adult Protective Services (APS) and document such in the patient’s medical record. Failure to report suspected elder abuse could lead to severe professional consequences and significant liability exposure.