When the tables turn and patients try to seduce doctors

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Earlier this year, a multi-part series in the Altanta Journal-Constitution got national attention when it reported on the problem of thousands of doctors sexually abusing patients.

But what happens when the tables turn and patients try to seduce or make inappropriate advances to doctors? It happens more often than you might think, and doctors have to be vigilant about addressing advances from amorous patients, say experts who treat doctors accused of sexual offenses, according to a Medscape report.

In some cases, patients try to willfully entrap doctors or even make false accusations against them, according to the article. State medical boards take such complaints seriously, and any hint of wrong-doing can ruin a doctor’s career.

Most doctors never respond to advances by patients, but almost every physician has encountered a seductive or flirtatious patient, Stephen J. Schenthal, M.D., CEO and founder of Professional Boundaries Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, which offers classes to doctors referred by medical boards for having sexual liaisons with patients, told Medscape.

Some patients can be persistent. In Great Britain, the Medical Defence Union, which represents doctors in malpractice cases, says incidents are on the rise with members reporting that they have been swamped with messages from patients on their mobile phones, email and on social media accounts.

So what should a doctor do if confronted by inappropriate patient behavior? Be direct in addressing the behavior in a way that is also tactful, since you don’t want a patient to make false accusations if you reject his or her advances, Michael C. Heitt, a clinical psychologist who treats many doctors referred by the Maryland Board of Physicians, told Medscape. You may want to leave the room and return with another healthcare professional, he recommended.

Document the event and the actions you took in response in the medical record, Schenthal said. The British group advises its members to keep a log of all calls and contacts by a patient and to retain the originals of any correspondence and gifts in case they are needed as evidence in a regulatory proceeding.