Dating patient ethics

Only a tiny minority (1%) give romance with current patients a green light, but a sizable share (22%) say that a romantic relationship with a former patient may be acceptable, as long as at least 6 months have passed since the professional relationship was terminated. Whereas the American Medical Association (AMA) clearly states that sexual contact that is concurrent with the doctor/patient relationship constitutes sexual misconduct, it takes a fuzzier position on relationships that might develop later.

The AMA notes that the prior doctor/patient relationship may unduly influence the patient and that such a relationship is unethical if the doctor "uses or exploits trust, knowledge, emotions or influence derived from the previous professional relationship." Ethicists, such as Dr.

Even though they answered "yes" to the question under those circumstances, they insisted that the wait should be a matter of years, not months.

Others insisted the difference between a current patient and a former one -- at least when it comes to romance -- depends on a formal letter terminating the professional relationship.

"I think it depends in part on the type of physician and medical care," says a pediatrician.

"For example, I would be less concerned about an ophthalmologist getting involved with a patient who has had general yearly visits than I would an internist or oncologist." Likewise, "the fact that you met them as a patient once in an ER, or you cared for them years ago and they are no longer your patient should not be absolute barriers to a relationship if it develops," wrote an obstetrician/gynecologist. Some specialties by their very nature create a more intimate relationship, and one that makes the patient more vulnerable.

When asked, "Is it ever acceptable to become involved a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient?

" more than two thirds (68%) of the 24,000 doctors who responded resoundingly say "no." In contrast, nearly one third are more nuanced in their view.

To the besotted poet, love is intoxicating, exasperating, invigorating.

Because relationships morph with time, it's often difficult to define starting and stopping points. Strangely, determining when the professional physician/patient relationship is over can be similarly murky.

Does a coincidental meeting at a cocktail party where you engage in a personal conversation constitute the beginning of a relationship? Many such relationships simply atrophy with inattention. For many physicians, "once a patient/doctor relationship, always a patient/doctor relationship," says Dr. "I think that's what sits behind the 68% of 'No/Never' responses." As one podiatrist notes, "I have had patients return to my practice after 5 or 10 years, so they never stopped being patients really." Others insist there has to be some logical point of demarcation between current and former patients.

"Of course, the physician-patient relationship would have to end." Many make the important distinction that the intimacy or longevity of the professional relationship plays a large role in determining the ethics of the personal one.

Not every patient interaction with a physician is emotionally deep, nor is there an innate imbalance of power.

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