Yes, romantic or sexual relationships with patients can be malpractice for medical practitioners.  The balance of power in the professional relationship between a doctor or therapist and a patient makes a sexual relationship highly suspect and unethical.  It is the doctor or therapist’s responsibility and duty to ensure that his or her relationship with the patient remain as professional as possible.

Is it Still Malpractice if the Patient Consents to the Sexual Conduct?

Generally yes, any sexual conduct with a patient is considered malpractice, whether or not the patient consented to the conduct.  Consent is not a valid defense to malpractice.

Is There an Exception if It’s “True Love”?

There is no "true love" exception for the malpractice of engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient.  It is very easy for a patient to mistake appreciation for love, and transfer feelings of respect and gratitude into the context of a romantic or sexual relationship.   

What if the Patient is No Longer Under the Care of the Doctor?

Generally, it is malpractice for a doctor to engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with current OR former patients.

  • The medical community requires that doctors and patients wait at least a year after terminating the doctor/patient relationship before entering into a sexual or romantic relationship.  There is a push for a longer waiting period.
  • The American Psychiatric Association has said that patient/therapist romantic relationships are never appropriate.

What if the Doctor Has Retired From Medicine? What if the Doctor is No Longer a Doctor?

Although a retired doctor can’t commit malpractice in the strictest sense, a relationship between a former patient and a former doctor still raises a number of legal and ethical issues. The doctor’s fiduciary duty to patients is expected to survive after treatment. Even if a former doctor cannot have his or her medical license revoked for having a relationship with a former patient, civil lawsuits for exploitation and emotional distress can still be raised.

If I Promise Not to Sue My Physician or Therapist for Malpractice, Will it Be Safe to Enter into a Relationship?

Some states will enforce promises to not sue for malpractice.  However, even if you do not sue for malpractice, your doctor or therapist will still have to face a whole slew of legal issues.  Romantic relationships with patients violate the ethical standards of most medical professions.  Romantic or sexual relationships with patients are even illegal in some states.  Even without the threat of malpractice, a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient may end up costing a doctor or therapist his job. 

How Can a Doctor or Therapist Avoid Malpractice Suits for Engaging in a Sexual Relationship?

If a patient is mistaking feelings of gratitude for love, the doctor or therapist should bring an assistant of the same gender as the patient when seeing or treating the patient. The doctor or therapist should also make a note in the patient’s record. If the patient makes any further advances, the doctor or therapist should recommend that the patient see another practitioner.

Should I Consult a Malpractice Lawyer?

If your doctor or therapist has committed malpractice by engaging in a sexual relationship with you, or if you are a doctor or therapist and are concerned about the repercussions of a sexual or romantic relationship with a patient, you should contact a malpractice lawyer to learn more about your rights.  An experienced malpractice lawyer can explain the issues surrounding malpractice and represent you in court if necessary.