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What limits do doctors have regarding romantic relationships with patients? P.1

We have previously discussed on this blog the importance of physicians working with experienced legal counsel when facing allegations of patient sexual abuse. As we noted, such allegations can lead not only to criminal and civil charges, but also to disciplinary action by the state medical board.

While sexual abuse of patients is clearly a violation law, ethics rules, and common sense, the issue of dating patients can be a sticker one. Forming close relationships with patients is not uncommon among physicians, but when the relationship begins to take a romantic turn, the physician needs to be particularly cautious. 

According to a recent report by Medscape, most physicians feel that romantic relationships between physicians and patients are always wrong, regardless of the circumstances, and should be prohibited. One in five physicians say that romantic relationships with patients can be acceptable. Not surprisingly, more male physicians believe romantic relationships between physicians and patients can be acceptable. For physicians who fall in this camp, circumstances can make a difference, as long as the patient-physicians relationship is properly addressed.

The position taken by organized medical associations tends to agree with what the majority of physicians feel. The American Medical Association, for instance, says that, at the very least, physicians should terminate the patient-physician relationship before beginning a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient. The Federation of State Medical Board, in its model guidelines for state medical boards, defines sexual misconduct as behavior or actions which are “seductive, sexually suggestive, disrespectful of patient privacy or sexually demeaning to a patient.”

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue, particularly how it is handled by the Minnesota State Medical Board.