Complaints Involving Sexual Abuse, Sexual Misconduct or Activities of a Sexual Nature

In accordance with the Health Professions Act, the ACO has developed a Patient Relations Program to deal with sexual abuse and/or sexual misconduct of patients by optometrists.

The ACO Patient Relations Program ensures:

  • That adequate funding is available from the ACO for patients to access to pay for the costs of therapy and/or counselling.  This funding is immediately available to patients upon receipt of a written, signed letter of complaint submitted to the ACO Complaints Director at the ACO office and approval for funding by the ACO Registrar.
  • That appropriate ACO Standards of Practice, Guidelines to the ACO Standards of Practice, registration requirements and license renewal requirements have been developed and enforced by the ACO.
  • That all ACO administrative staff, ACO Council and ACO Hearing Tribunal Members have received appropriate training to deal with sexual abuse and/or misconduct issues.
  • That all ACO constituted Hearing Tribunals will have at least one Public Member on the Hearing Tribunal that matches the gender identity of the complainant.

The Alberta College of Optometrists (ACO) views any form of abuse of a patient, whether sexual or otherwise, as professional misconduct.  One of the main principles of the ACO is that all patients should receive safe, skilled and competent care from their optometrist in a trusting and respectful environment that is free from sexually abusive behaviors.

The ACO also believes that:

  • An optometrist, being in a position of trust and power, has a duty to act in the best interests of the patient.
  • Optometrists must establish and maintain appropriate professional boundaries with patients.
  • Sexual and/or romantic interactions are detrimental to the optometrist-patient relationship and may obscure the optometrist’s objective judgment concerning the patient’s care.
  • Sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by an optometrist is detrimental to the optometrist-patient relationship, harms individual patients and erodes the public’s trust in the optometric profession.
  • Patients must be protected from sexual abuse and/or sexual misconduct by optometrists.

General comments on sexual abuse, sexual misconduct or activities of a sexual nature:

  • Having a patient disrobe during an optometric eye examination is never appropriate.
  • Optometrists should not comment on a patient’s physical appearance, clothing or body unless clinically necessary.
  • Optometrists should not tell jokes or make comments of a sexual nature.
  • Hugging and/or kissing between an optometrist and their patient is never appropriate and should never be initiated by the optometrist.  If it is initiated by the patient, the optometrist should respectfully decline.
  • Touching of a patient should only be used as clinically necessary to facilitate the optometric eye examination.  Examples of appropriate touching may include:  shaking hands, assisting a patient to transfer from a wheelchair to the exam chair, etc.
  • Optometrists should not display any material within their offices that is sexually offensive, suggestive or inappropriate.
  • Optometrists should explain the name of a test and how it has to be performed in advance of the test being performed if it requires the optometrist to be in close proximity to the patient when performing the test.
  • Optometrists should be aware, sensitive and mindful of a patient’s cultural or religious background and adjust their communication and mannerisms accordingly.

The ACO also believes that if a patient initiates sexually inappropriate behavior or conversation, the optometrist should respectfully discourage it and make a notation in the patient chart.  If the patient persists in this inappropriate behavior and/or conversation, the optometrist should terminate the optometrist-patient relationship by dismissing the patient.

The ACO has developed several documents to assist patients with complaints of a sexual nature.  The Sexual Abuse and Sexual Misconduct Complaints Information Guide defines sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, lists various examples of activities that may constitute a sexual impropriety and details the complaint and Hearing Tribunal process.

The ACO Therapy and Counselling Funding Program offers an easily readable Q & A on how the ACO Funding Program operates.  Should you require any additional information or clarification, we encourage you to call the ACO office and speak directly with one of our highly trained staff.

If you wish to access funding for therapy or counselling, you will be required to complete a Funding and Counselling Application Form.  Following receipt of your application form and approval for funding, the ACO will guide you on completing any other required forms (from the following list)