Some doctors don't see anything wrong with dating a patient. Others think who they date is a private matter as long as it's between consenting adults. Is dating a patient wrong? You be the judge.
Posted in Case Studies on Tuesday, June 25, 2019
James Ramsey, DC, 38, was married with two children and was busy with his growing practice. He was also active in the community, involved with his church and was held in high esteem by his patients and peers.
One day, Dr. Ramsey received a letter from the attorney general’s office requiring his appearance before the state’s Board of Chiropractic Examiners—four women had charged him with sexual misconduct. He'd also received notice of a separate court action that the women were seeking substantial financial settlements.
Five years earlier, Dr. Ramsey became sexually intimate with an office employee named "Kate" who was also a patient. According to Dr. Ramsey, he and Kate were in unhappy marriages, and their coupling was consensual. The relationship ended amicably after six months, and Kate left Dr. Ramsey’s employment to open a massage therapy office. She continued to send her children to receive care from Dr. Ramsey.
Dr. Ramsey later became sexually involved with two other patients—Lisa and Bethany. Both relationships were consensual and ended on friendly terms. In fact, Lisa was hired to work in Dr. Ramsey’s office.
Three years after the last relationship ended, Dr. Ramsey received the notice requiring his appearance before the state’s Board of Examiners. Lisa had visited Kate for treatment and Dr. Ramsey’s name came up. Initially, both women talked about what a fine doctor and person Dr. Ramsey was. However, as the conversation continued, they discovered that they both had slept with Dr. Ramsey. Later, they found out about a third woman who was also involved in a sexual relationship with the DC. Further complicating the issue, a fourth woman claimed that Dr. Ramsey had a sexual relationship with her—a claim that Dr. Ramsey vehemently denied. The women decided to take action.
What Happened During the Hearing?
During a hearing before the Chiropractic Board of Examiners, Dr. Ramsey was found guilty of four counts of sexual misconduct, and his license was suspended for two years. At the end of two years, he could apply for reactivation of his chiropractic license if he:
- Performed 50 hours of community service per year
- Received professional counseling on patient boundaries
- Had his office supervised by a former Board member who would provide semi-annual reports to the Board, verifying Dr. Ramsey’s completion of the requirements.
In addition, as a result of a civil action brought by the four women, Dr. Ramsey had to pay each claimant an out-of-court monetary settlement.
The resulting publicity severely affected Dr. Ramsey’s family and his practice. A divorce ensued, the doctor’s professional reputation was damaged and his patient flow diminished. (Dr. Ramsey had to hire a new graduate to keep his practice open during the suspension.)
Two years and three months later, after complying with all of the Board’s requirements, Dr. Ramsey’s license was reinstated. However, Dr. Ramsey was required to remove the doors to his office, have a female on staff observe all of his treatments with female patients and make other changes to his office policies before he could practice again.
Dr. Ramsey returned to his practice with the associate doctor, who is now his partner. Ultimately, the practice was able to prosper again, but only after Dr. Ramsey learned a costly lesson and paid an enormous personal, financial and professional price.
What Can We Learn?
Never become involved with a patient or employee. If a sexual relationship is inevitable, the patient or employee can no longer remain your patient or employee. The person must be referred to another doctor for care or dismissed as an employee. (Note: Some states never permit a doctor to date a former patient—no matter how much time has elapsed.)
Claiming the relationship was consensual is not a viable defense. There is an inherent imbalance of power in a doctor-patient relationship, not to mention in an employer-employee relationship. It’s the doctor’s responsibility to look out for the patient’s best interest. Doctors are held to higher professional and ethical standards than the rest of society.
Don't become involved in the personal problems of patients and employees. Keep these relationships on a professional level. This scenario can lead to inappropriate involvement with a patient or employee.
Don't disclose personal problems and other personal information to patients.
Don't make the mistake of thinking the relationship is “special,” and the individual would never turn on you. This assumption has proven false time and time again—with catastrophic results for the doctor.
If you're tempted to enter a sexual relationship with a patient or employee, consider all the potential consequences and ask yourself: Is it worth it?