Life, Death, and Heartache: Ethical Dilemmas Get Tougher

|Disclosures|November 15, 2012

Romance or Sex With a Patient

Is it ever acceptable to become involved in a romantic/sexual relationship with a patient?

Only a miniscule percentage of doctors (1%) believe that it's okay to have a romance with a current patient. Among those who do, some said that they are married to a patient and were glad they pursued the relationship. Doctors in rural areas noted that it's virtually impossible not to date a patient, because everyone in the local population will be a patient at some point or another.

Beyond that, some specialties find it less taboo to date a patient than do others. About 68% said they would never date a patient; 22% of respondents said they would date a former patient but would wait at least 6 months after the person has stopped being a patient; and 9% said it depends. Several physicians said it's fine to date a former patient, but the waiting period should be 1 year -- not 6 months -- after they are no longer a patient.

'If you treat a patient one time in an urgent care clinic, it's not the same as if you're an internist or oncologist who sees the patient regularly," said one emergency physician. Adds another emergency physician, "If you see them once in a clinic, date the doc next month!"

By far, the majority held fast against dating either a current or former patient. "This is creepy and beyond unethical!" "There is a power inequity there," and "Patients can always claim sexual abuse, and you are guilty with the judge or jury, since it's your word against the patient's."

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Authors and Disclosures


Leslie Kane, MA

Executive Editor, Medscape Business of Medicine

Disclosure: Leslie Kane, MA, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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