When Patients Try to Seduce Doctors

Leigh Page


October 26, 2016

In This Article

There Are Blatant Seductions

Seductive patients can be very overt about their intentions. In response to a Medscape article on physician/patient romance,[4] one dermatologist recalled the time that a patient had left her red panties in the examination room. Another physician said he was being "hit on like Normandy beach.

Experts say that very blatant come-ons rarely tempt doctors. Indeed, Dr Kevin Pezzi, MD, a former emergency physician who says he has been hit on by female patients, says he never succumbed to any of these advances. In many cases, "I knew I was dealing with someone bereft of intelligence or common sense, or burdened by mental illness affecting judgment," he adds.

What also bothered him was that "none of them knew me," he says. "They saw 'a doctor' and projected their beliefs about what doctors and their lifestyles are like onto me."

Dr Pezzi recalls another doctor's experiences with a persistent patient. The patient asked the doctor for a date, and when he declined, she sent him notes and baked cookies. Later, he chanced upon her and her child in the local Walmart. She asked him for a date one more time, but the doctor said he would be moving soon. "That's OK," she replied, "we'll move with you."

Some Doctors Are Intrigued by Patients' Advances

The ban against doctors dating their own patients has existed for 25 centuries. The Hippocratic Oath,[5] written in the fifth century BC, states that a physician pledges to keep himself from "all seduction, and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men."

However, a growing number of physicians are interested in dating patients, provided they have cut the doctor/patient relationship off and have waited for a certain period. In a 2014 Medscape survey,[6] 22% said doctors should be able to date a patient after a 6-month waiting period. That number was up from just 12% in a 2010 Medscape survey.

"Doctors sometimes wonder whether it is permissible to date patients expressing an interest," Dr Pezzi says. "That depends on the patient; the nature and duration of the professional relationship; and the state or country, with different ones imposing different restrictions."

Dating ex-patients after a waiting period is recognized under law in many states, and it has been reaffirmed in the newly updated code of ethics[7] of the American Medical Association (AMA). However, the AMA code stipulates that such dating would be unethical if "the physician uses or exploits the trust, knowledge, emotions, or influence" that he or she had in the therapeutic relationship.

In 2013, British doctors were allowed for the first time to date former patients. This became possible under new guidelines[8] issued by the General Medical Council, which licenses all British doctors. But the guidelines warn that such relationships may still be inappropriate, depending on the length of time since the therapeutic relationship was ended and the nature of that relationship.

Meanwhile, the Medscape survey shows that more than two thirds of physicians oppose dating previous patients. Opponents say it that creates a moral gray zone that invites physicians to keep open the possibility of dating a patient if they simply wait a while.

"My recommendation is to never date former patients," Dr Schenthal says.


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