Considering Dating a Patient? Physicians Speak Out

Agnes Shanley

Disclosures

April 05, 2017

In This Article

The AMA Says No, With One Exception

Medscape's 2016 Physician Ethics Report shows that 7 in 10 doctors oppose the idea of physicians dating patients, at least while they're still patients. The article When Is It Okay to Date a Patient? generated heated discussion on a topic that has always been considered taboo.

The American Medical Association (AMA) code of conduct explicitly forbids physicians from entering into romantic relationships with patients, because doctors might be tempted to exploit any weaknesses or difficulties that patients are going through or become less objective in treating them. The AMA does, however, say that if a doctor persists in initiating a relationship with a patient, he or she shouldn't do so before terminating the professional relationship, "at a minimum." The Federation of State Medical Boards likewise considers dating patients to be a type of professional misconduct.

Practicing physicians appear to agree.

But are the medical profession's—and society's—views on physician/patient dating changing? Perhaps. Whereas in 2016, 70% of respondents felt that dating a patient is unethical and should be forbidden, in 2010, 83% of respondents opposed these relationships. One recruiter quoted in the article sees a connection between today's less formal patient/physician interactions (no lab coats, call me by my first name) and the reason why fewer people might be opposed to patient/doctor dating.

A More Liberal Attitude Emerges

Readers who commented on the article expressed strong feelings about the subject. A retired psychiatrist, now in his 80s, offered cautionary tales involving young patients who were extremely seductive during office visits. One of them appeared to be in her own fantasy during office visits. She complained that her husband couldn't please her.

A turning point came when she sent herself flowers and charged them to the psychiatrist. As it turned out, she was in the middle of a divorce, and had told her husband that she had been having an affair with the doctor for years, providing fictional information about his lifestyle, his children, and where he lived—all of which stemmed entirely from her own fantasies.

He dealt with the problem by scrupulously maintaining his distance from this woman and all of his other patients, suggesting that any of them who were aggressively flirtatious and unhappy in their marriages talk with their spouses and receive relationship counseling. As he wrote:

Rigid rules of professional behavior, going back to antiquity, may have saved many a doctor from falling into the trap of a dysfunctional, rage-based attachment, and compounding the damage to his patient begun by a dysfunctional family of origin.

Many readers commenting on the article maintained that patient/physician relationships are never acceptable. One psychiatrist commented, "With 3.5 to 4 billion women and 3.5 billion men in the world, if you have to troll your practice for a date, you are mentally ill or flat-out pathetic."

Others were quick to mention the possible professional fallout. "Never, never, never. Not worth losing [your] license, reputation, paying fines, and doing jail time," wrote one family practitioner. Or in the words of two surgeons: "Never a good idea. We're better than this," and "No, not at all. It's definitely going to compromise professionalism."

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