When Is It Okay to Date a Patient?

Mark Crane

Disclosures

January 04, 2017

In This Article

Still an Unbreakable Taboo?

Romance can be complicated for anyone. For physicians who may feel attracted to a patient or the patient's family member, the situation can be fraught with peril and could even endanger a doctor's medical license.

Entering into a romantic liaison with a patient has been considered taboo since the time of Hippocrates.

The attitude that it's never appropriate for a physician to become romantically involved with a patient remains strong but may be loosening some, according to Medscape's Physician Ethics Report 2016.

Such relationships are always unethical and should be forbidden, according to an overwhelming majority (70%) of the 7500 physicians from more than 25 specialties who participated in our survey. That's down since 2010, when 83% felt that way. Only 2% of doctors say a relationship with a current patient is OK.

Whereas 1 out of 4 male physicians believe that a relationship may be acceptable, fewer than 1 in 5 female doctors find it within ethical boundaries.

Organized Medicine's Position

The reasons for the prohibition are well known. Most respondents acknowledge the inherent power imbalance between doctors and patients, who may be vulnerable; have mental health issues; and see physicians during troubling times, such as illness or bereavement.

Most respondents strongly endorse the position of the American Medical Association's (AMA's) Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs[1]:

Such interactions detract from the goals of the patient-physician relationship and may exploit the vulnerability of the patient, compromise the physician's ability to make objective judgements about the patient's health care, and ultimately be detrimental to the patient's well-being. At a minimum, a physician must terminate the patient-physician relationship before initiating a dating, romantic, or sexual relationship with a patient.

The Federation of State Medical Boards has a model guidance for boards on how to address sexual boundaries with physicians[2]:

We identify sexual impropriety as one type of professional misconduct described as behavior, gestures, or expressions that are seductive, sexually suggestive, disrespectful of patient privacy or sexually demeaning to a patient.

One of the examples cited is "using the physician-patient relationship to solicit a date or romantic relationship."

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