In our last post, we began looking at the issue of physicians having romantic relationships with their patients and the ethical issues that can arise in such situations. As we noted, a large note of caution is given by physicians groups on becoming romantic with patients, and most physicians feel that it is wrong to do so, though some feel it can be acceptable if the physician-patient relationship is terminated prior to the relationship and that circumstances can make a difference.
Under Minnesota law, physicians can be subjected to professional discipline for becoming romantically involved with patients, so it is critical to exercise a great deal of caution in this area. This is particularly important given that there can be misunderstandings between patients and physicians, particularly when a patient is emotionally vulnerable.
One of the grounds listed for disciplinary action by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice is, “engaging in conduct with a patient which is sexual or may reasonably be interpreted by the patient as sexual, or in any verbal behavior which is seductive or sexually demeaning to a patient.”
From this, it is clear that a physician needs to maintain clear boundaries and avoid all appearance of sexual impropriety. It is conceivable that a physician may end up being accused of sexual misconduct or impropriety based on a misunderstanding of the patient. While the medical board does look to the reasonableness of the accusations, physicians should not assume that they will be given the benefit of the doubt for disciplinary purposes.
Physicians who come under the review of the medical board for alleged sexual misconduct with a patient, whatever the circumstances, need to have a strong advocate on their side to ensure that their due process rights are protected and that they have the best possibility or a favorable resolution to their case.