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?
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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