How Long Before a Doctor Can Date a Former Patient in Illinois?

dating a former patient


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Medical professionals are bound by licensing and ethical standards prohibiting them from engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with their patients. These regulations and codes ensure the patient’s well-being and the medical profession’s integrity.

But what happens when the doctor-patient relationship ends and the two parties wish to pursue a romantic relationship? How long should they wait before beginning a romantic relationship?

The answer is not as simple as you might think. In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) does not set specific requirements for when you can begin a relationship with a former patient, only that the patient-physician relationship must first be terminated. But even then, is pursuing a relationship appropriate? Could it still cost you your career?

Is It Legal to Date a Former Patient?

The AMA Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 9.1.1 prohibits physicians from engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with their patients. These relationships are not only unethical but can create conflicts of interest, undermining the trust between the doctor and patient and compromising patient care.

However, the exception to the rule is for former patients. If a doctor wishes to pursue a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a patient, they must first terminate the professional relationship.

Still, the Code of Ethics does not provide a specific time frame for how long a physician should wait before dating a former patient. Instead, it suggests that physicians should avoid relationships that could harm the patient’s well-being or undermine the public’s trust in the medical profession. Physicians must use their best judgment related to the patient’s well-being, even after formally terminating the physician-patient relationship.

When Is It Appropriate to Date a Former Patient?

There is no simple answer to this question, as each situation is unique. However, doctors should consider several factors when deciding whether to pursue a romantic relationship with a former patient.

These factors include:

  • The potential impact of the relationship on the patient’s well-being
  • The duration and previous intensity of the doctor-patient relationship
  • The nature of the medical treatment provided
  • The patient’s emotional state at the end of the doctor-patient relationship

When considering these factors honestly and thoughtfully, physicians can make informed decisions regarding whether it may be appropriate to pursue a romantic relationship with a former patient—ensuring that ethical lines are never crossed along the way.

What Constitutes an Unethical Relationship With a Former Patient?

According to the AMA Code of Ethics, a sexual or romantic relationship with a former patient can be considered unethical if the physician uses the trust, knowledge, emotions, or influence gained from the previous professional relationship to their advantage or if the romantic relationship could potentially harm the individual.

This could look like:

  • A doctor using information learned during the professional relationship, such as personal or emotional vulnerabilities, to pursue a sexual or romantic relationship with a former patient;
  • A doctor pursuing a sexual or romantic relationship with a former patient who is vulnerable or who had a dependent relationship with the doctor;
  • A doctor exploits the power imbalance inherent in the previous professional relationship to pursue an otherwise unwanted sexual or romantic relationship with a former patient.

Physicians pursuing a relationship with a former patient must be cautious about any power dynamics that could harm the patient, such as exploiting personal information or influencing decision-making. Ultimately, the physician must prioritize the well-being of their former patient above any personal desires.

What Are the Potential Consequences of Dating a Patient as a Doctor?

While it’s technically okay for doctors to date former patients, the potential consequences can outweigh any immediate benefits.

Engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with a former patient can lead to disciplinary action from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), including revoking a physician’s medical license.

Doctors who cross these ethical and licensing boundaries also risk damage to their reputation, loss of patients, and legal action from the patient or their family.

As such, doctors must prioritize their professional responsibilities and avoid jeopardizing their livelihoods by engaging in inappropriate relationships with former patients.

Don’t Lose Your License. Contact 1818 Today.

If you are facing an investigation or disciplinary action from IDFPR related to a relationship with a former patient, you need legal representation from a qualified attorney.

At 1818, our experienced team of healthcare license defense attorneys understand the complex legal and ethical considerations in cases involving doctor-patient relationships. We are committed to helping our clients protect their medical licenses and reputations by providing strategic legal guidance throughout any investigatory or disciplinary process.

Don’t let a mistake jeopardize your livelihood. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help defend your license and future.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.