Relationship with former patient
Dr O’Neill is a GP. Ben has been a patient at the GP practice for several years. Ben has consulted with Dr O’Neill on multiple occasions and has grown very fond of him.
Dr O’Neill accepts Ben’s friend request on Facebook, prompting Ben to send him a message. Ben mentions he has feelings for him and asks if he would like to meet up. They meet in a café and continue to contact and meet up with each other.
Due to their relationship, they agree that Ben should consult with a different GP in future. Ben attends his next GP appointment with Dr Hamid, who orders a blood test. Ben feels worried, so he also contacts Dr O’Neill and asks for his advice. Dr O’Neill decides to check Ben’s result himself and he reassures Ben the test result is normal.
Ben books a further appointment with Dr Hamid due to persistent low mood and stress. During his consultation, he discusses the breakdown of his marriage and recent sexual activities, including his relationship with Dr O’Neill. Ben tells Dr Hamid that he, not Dr O’Neill initiated the relationship and that it occurred when he was no longer a patient. Dr Hamid informs Ben that as a doctor she has a professional obligation to notify the GMC regarding Dr O’Neill’s conduct.
What the doctors should have considered
- Doctors must consider the potential risks involved in using social media as this can blur the boundaries between a doctor’s personal and professional lives and may change the nature of the relationship between a doctor and a patient. (Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient, paragraph 14).
- If a patient pursues a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a doctor, the doctor should treat them politely and considerately and try to re-establish a professional boundary. (Ending your professional relationship with a patient, paragraph 5).
- If a patient has made a sexual advance, the doctor may end the professional relationship following the guidance in Ending your professional relationship with a patient (Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient, paragraph 5). However, a doctor must not end a professional relationship with a patient solely to pursue a personal relationship with them. (Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient, paragraph 7).
- Doctors should, wherever possible, avoid providing medical care to anyone with whom they have a close personal relationship (Good medical practice, paragraph 16g). Doctors must abide by their legal and ethical duties of Confidentiality.
- Personal relationships with former patients may be inappropriate. Doctors should consider the length of time since the professional relationship ended; the duration and nature of the previous professional relationship; the vulnerability of the patient, and if they will be caring for other members of the patient’s family. (Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient, paragraphs 8–10).
- Doctors have a professional responsibility to report all incidents of sexual misconduct they see or to which their attention is drawn. (Sexual behaviour and your duty to report colleagues, paragraphs 1–4)
- Doctors must offer support to any of their patients affected by a colleague’s breach of sexual boundaries (Sexual behaviour and your duty to report colleagues, paragraph 5)
- Doctors should respect patient confidentiality when reporting their concerns. But, the safety of patients must come first at all times. If it is necessary to identify the patient, the doctor should explain to the patient why disclosure is necessary and seek the patient’s consent, unless it is not appropriate or practical to do so. (Sexual behaviour and your duty to report colleagues, paragraph 6)