As a physician, you have a professional relationship with your patients. However, feelings can arise on either side that threaten to make the relationship less professional. Sexual or romantic interactions with patients are unethical and may be grounds for medical license revocation. It is your responsibility to set and enforce boundaries for your patients that prevent any inappropriate behavior.
What happens if you and your patient both desire and consent to a relationship that is romantic or sexual? Is it completely incompatible with your ethical responsibilities? The American Medical Association, which sets ethical standards for the health care profession, offers the following guidance.
Why are romantic or sexual relationships with a patient unethical?
The AMA offers several reasons why sexual or romantic relationships with current patients are unethical. Dating a patient whom you are also treating could affect your objectivity. As a result, you may make faulty judgments regarding the patient’s care. In a doctor-patient relationship, the patient is in a position of vulnerability, and initiating a romantic or sexual relationship with the patient could exploit that.
Is there a way to move forward with the relationship?
The Code of Medical Ethics is clear that the only way a romantic or sexual relationship between you and a patient is possible is if you terminate the doctor-patient relationship before you begin to date. Even then, the AMA is wary that you may have gained knowledge or trust from the previous professional relationship that you could exploit to the patient’s detriment.
It is important to point out that the ethical restrictions against relationships with patients still apply even if the interactions are consensual. It is your responsibility to behave according to the ethical standard no matter what, and you could lose your license if you fail to do so.