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Opinion 8.145 - Sexual or Romantic Relations between Physicians and Key Third Parties

Patients are often accompanied by third parties who play an integral role in the patient-physician relationship. The physician interacts and communicates with these individuals and often is in a position to offer them information, advice, and emotional support. The more deeply involved the individual is in the clinical encounter and in medical decision making, the more troubling sexual or romantic contact with the physician would be. This is especially true for the individual whose decisions directly impact on the health and welfare of the patient. Key third parties include, but are not limited to, spouses or partners, parents, guardians, and proxies.

Physicians should refrain from sexual or romantic interactions with key third parties when it is based on the use or exploitation of trust, knowledge, influence, or emotions derived from a professional relationship. The following factors should be considered when considering whether a relationship is appropriate: the nature of the patient’s medical problem, the length of the professional relationship, the degree of the third party’s emotional dependence on the physician, and the importance of the clinical encounter to the third party and the patient. (I, II)

Issued December 1998 based on the report "Sexual or Romantic Relations between Physicians and Key Third Parties," adopted June 1998.