5 February 2018

Feedback sought for relationship guidelines

Patients Sex

The Medical Board is seeking feedback on a new draft of plain-English guidelines for sexual boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship.

The revised guidelines spell out the rule that a patient cannot consent to a sexual relationship with a treating practitioner due to the “inherent power balance”.

The guidelines also address dealings with people who are close to a patient, including the parents of a child patient, a spouse, carer, guardian or family member.

A sexual relationship with such an individual may be unethical if the doctor has used any power imbalance or knowledge gained as the patient’s doctor to engage in the relationship, the draft document says.

The relationship would be inappropriate if, for example, the practitioner had provided long-term emotion or psychological treatment to the patient. Another factor would be the extent to which the patient was reliant on the individual close to them.

Similar guidelines apply in the case of relationships with former patients.  However, the new draft has dropped explicit mention of ex-patients from the category of sexual misconduct that would demand a mandatory notification.

The document says it “may be unethical and unprofessional for a doctor to engage in sexualised behaviour with an ex-patient If this breaches the trust the patient placed in the doctor”.

The draft guidelines, which incorporate advice from a 2017 report on the use of chaperones, also offer detailed advice concerning physical examinations, warning that an unnecessary examination of a patient could constitute sexual assault.

Submissions are sought by March 29.