- Avoid sharing personal information with your patients.
- Keep a record of any discussions with patients - including inappropriate advances.
You probably wouldn't associate passionate feelings with your medical practice. But sometimes patients can misinterpret their doctor's professional behaviour and try to turn a purely professional relationship into a romantic one.
It might be a simple case of miscommunication or a Valentine's Day advance, but whatever the reason, it may prompt someone with amorous feelings to make an approach. How can you avoid this happening to you and if it does, how should you deal with it?
Maintain clear, professional boundaries
The best way to avoid becoming the object of a patient's affections is to make sure you maintain clear, professional boundaries with all of your patients and avoid sharing too much information about your personal life. You may see it as just making small talk when you tell a patient where you are off to on holiday, but they may see this as the start of a friendship.
The GMC's guidance on maintaining professional boundaries with patients advises that it is not ethical to pursue an 'improper emotional relationship' with a patient or with someone who is close to them such as a family member.
Never add a patient as a friend on Facebook
Social media has blurred the boundaries between the professional and the personal, leading to tricky situations for doctors. You may have a personal Facebook account that you also use to keep up to date on the latest medical news via Facebook groups, as well as keep in touch with friends and family. But you should never add a patient as friend.
If you do want to communicate information about your practice to patients via social media, consider setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account specifically for your practice.
Dealing with inappropriate behaviour
If a patient behaves inappropriately, by (for example) sending you a Valentine's Day card or gift, making suggestive comments or asking you on a date, it's important not to ignore the situation as they may not realise that you object.
Instead, politely but firmly ask them to stop, making it clear that the relationship is strictly professional. Always keep a record of this discussion.
Although the patient may be embarrassed about the situation, most patients will understand and not contact you in anything other than a professional capacity again.
Don't deal with it alone
It is important not to deal with these situations alone. You may wish to share the problem with your colleagues who could be a valuable source of support. If you feel uncomfortable continuing to see the patient, then consider asking a colleague to see them instead. Bear in mind, however, that you may still need to treat the patient if an emergency arises.
If you ever feel your safety or that of others is at risk then consider involving the police. If this is necessary, be mindful of confidentiality and make sure you do not divulge any confidential clinical information without the patient's consent, unless this would be justifiable in the public interest.
You can also contact us at any time. You certainly won't be the first to contact us about this issue and we can guide you through your options and advise you on how to deal with the situation.
This page was correct at publication on 08/02/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.