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AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (WA)
There is no rhyme or reason to the romantic feelings some patients develop for their doctor. It may be a physical attraction, the result of an exaggerated deference to authority, or a reflection of the patient’s personal situation.
A sympathetic ear, or simply being heard, can often trigger an emotional response from a patient. Whatever the reason, the potential blurring of the doctor-patient relationship can lead to significant professional consequences if not managed promptly and appropriately.
A female patient in an abusive relationship always saw a female doctor in the practice. She was booked with a male doctor at short notice after her usual doctor left to deal with an emergency. The male doctor was sympathetic towards the patient who had been verbally abused by her partner the previous night.
The patient’s usual doctor returned from leave, but the patient continued to book with the male doctor. The frequency of the visits increased and the patient asked the doctor for his mobile number in case of emergency. He provided it, concerned about the patient’s previous history of domestic violence.
The patient didn’t use the number until late one night when he received a text: “My life sux – my time with you is all that keeps me going. Wanna meet 4 coffee?”
The doctor was very concerned, and he was unsure what to do. His wife, also a doctor, urged him to contact his medical indemnity insurer for advice.
In hindsight, the doctor was able to recall the warning signs. The patient didn’t need to attend so often. She always booked his last appointment for the day and spent much of the consultation engaging him in conversation. The doctor was aware she was vulnerable and didn’t know how to raise the issue without causing her distress. Once he received the text, he realised the doctor-patient relationship was unhealthy and that he would need to end the therapeutic relationship.
A medico-legal adviser assisted the doctor to write to the patient, stating it was in her best interests to find a new doctor or practice.
Due to the risk of repercussions if the letter was opened by the patient’s partner, it was agreed that the doctor would explain the situation and provide the letter to her in person. The patient was embarrassed and she opted to move to another practice.
Things to remember
If the therapeutic relationship is causing you concern or no longer healthy, please contact your medical indemnity insurer for advice on how to manage the situation.
This article is provided by MDA National. They recommend that you contact your indemnity provider if you need specific advice in relation to your insurance policy.