Physician/patient relationship = power imbalance

The State Medical Board of Ohio addressed two cases at its March meeting concerning the physician-patient relationship.  http://www.med.ohio.gov/pdf/Agenda/Agenda%20-2012/03-12agenda.pdf

In one case, the Medical Board suspended the license of a physician for 180 days after a hearing based on the finding that the physician had engaged in a sexual relationship with an indigent patient after providing the patient with “free” medical care and “free” medicine. From the physician’s perspective, she honestly believed that she was providing a medical service to the patient that he could not otherwise afford and that she should not then be “punished” for providing this care.   The physician did not comprehend that having a personal (read: sexual) relationship with the patient violated the physician/patient relationship.  Regardless of the fact that the medical care provided to the patient without charge, a physician-patient relationship was created.  The Board suspended the physician’s license for 180 days for the boundary violation.

In the second case, the State’s attorney offered for Board approval a Consent Agreement  for a physician who had engaged in a sexual relationship with a patient, which proposed to impose no active suspension on the physician’s license. The rationale given by the State’s attorney for no suspension was the fact that the patient was also the corporate attorney for the medical practice and therefore the legal staff did not believe that there was the same imbalance of power between the physician and the patient that usually leads to physician discipline. The state’s attorney argued that the physician and attorney/patient were on a more even footing.  The state’s attorney argued there was no imbalance of power and consequently no suspension should be imposed on the physician’s license.

The Board members did not agree with this argument. In a rarely seen move by the Board, the proposed Consent Agreement, was rejected by the Board.  While this is a very unusual fact pattern, it clearly shows the Board believes strongly about the inherent imbalance of power in a physician-patient relationship.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the medical board in general, please feel free to call me at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

2 thoughts on “Physician/patient relationship = power imbalance

  1. I am doing some reserch on consensual relationships between health staff and patients and will be looking at power imbalances. I have a nursing background and have just finished law. I am doing this with a lawyer. This is very interesting, what was the outcome ?and is it possible to get a copy of the case with the Attourney’s reasoning behind their descision.

    1. Yes. You can obtain a complete copy of any Medical Board decision by going onto the Medical Board website and searching by the physicians name or by making a public records request to the Medical Board. I would be glad to assist you, just shoot me an email or call my office. Beth@collislaw.com

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