Doctors naturally develop both professional and personal relationships with their patients. However, getting too close to a patient can mean crossing important professional boundaries.
In some cases, physicians who become too intimate with patients may even run the risk of losing their medical license.
What types of behavior might constitute a boundary violation?
According to the American Medical Association, a sexual relationship between a current physician and a patient is professional misconduct. This is true regardless of the patient’s consent. While not treated quite as severely, the AMA also advises that romantic relationships with current patients are medically unethical.
Medical licensing boards often take charges of boundary violations very seriously. Doctors and other health care professionals should be sure to avoid even nonsexual behaviors that might seem inappropriate to others.
What about relationships with prior patients?
Doctors in certain positions must be especially careful. For instance, it may be a violation for a board-regulated physician to have a sexual relationship with a former patient within two years of their professional relationship ending. However, all health care providers should be mindful of how a relationship with a prior patient could be harmful or exploitative.
What are potential penalties for a boundary violation?
If a physician violates patient-doctor boundaries, the state licensing board may either suspend or revoke the doctor’s medical license.
The licensing board may contact a doctor if staff or patients have concerns about his or her professional behavior. Physicians facing scrutiny should know that a strong defense may be necessary to continue practicing their profession.