The Florence Nightingale effect may provide romantic fodder for Hollywood dramatizations, but real life is an entirely different matter. Indeed, alleged boundary violations may give way to litigation and other professional consequences, such as a negligence lawsuit and/or losing one’s medical or nursing license. Fortunately, state laws and professional ethical codes do offer some guidance.
According to the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, sexual misconduct must occur concurrently with the patient-physician relationship. Even with a former patient, however, a sexual or romantic relationship could be perceived as improper if it was unduly influenced by information or exchanges that occurred during the former professional relationship.
Of course, an ethical rule issued by a professional organization is not the same as case law. Fortunately, there are rulings on point. In one case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that a consensual sexual relationship between a family practitioner and a female patient did not constitute medical malpractice. However, such conduct could prompt discipline by a respective licensing board.
If you are a medical professional accused of a boundary violation, it is imperative that you seek legal counsel before answering any questions on the subject. In particular, admissions made to a Bureau of Enforcement and Investigations official could potentially be used as incriminating evidence.
Our law firm has helped many clients with their professional license defense strategy. A starting point is to clarify the alleged behavior and its timing. In the above case, the court drew a distinction based upon the type of care provided. The doctor was not a mental health specialist but a general practitioner, and he provided only incidental mental health treatment to the female patient. For that reason, the court did not hold him to as high a standard regarding the professional negligence claim.
Related Post: “Boundary Violations in Healthcare Professional Cases,” copyright 2016, The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn