As a doctor, you know that a romantic relationship with a current patient is absolutely off-limits — but what about former patients? Is it really a breach of ethics if there’s no current physician-patient relationship?

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), doctors need to end their physician-patient relationship before they begin any kind of romance with a patient. On the surface, that might seem like doctors are being given a green light when it comes to relationships with former patients. However, that’s not quite the case.

The AMA also says that the romantic relationship with a former patient and their doctor can be “unduly influenced” by the prior existing relationship between the two under certain circumstances:

  • When the physician exploits any knowledge from the prior relationship
  • When the physician uses the former patient’s trust or other emotions to exploit the patient
  • If there’s any way the physician might possibly foresee the former patient coming to some harm from the romance

Physicians are even expected to draw the line at other nonclinical contact with their patients whenever there’s a fear that such contact could be perceived as romantic or might lead to romance. In other words, it’s not generally appropriate to ask a patient out to dinner or to accept such an invitation when there’s any possibility of romance involved.

Ultimately, while the AMA doesn’t explicitly bar physicians from relationships with their former patients, a physician who engages in one may be walking an ethical tightrope. It’s far wiser to avoid ever crossing that line.

If you are in a relationship with a former patient and your ethics as a physician have been called into question, make sure that you get experienced legal advice.

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