As a healthcare professional you also have a duty of care to look after yourself – both your physical and mental health.
In the book “Abuse of the doctor-patient relationship” a study by the British Medical Association highlights that 48% of GPs had suffered psychological distress, 14% had felt suicidal and 23% had used alcohol as a response to anxiety. Patient care can be seriously compromised through stress, tiredness, overwork and depression. Different professionals deal with this burnout in different ways.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility to believe that some medics deal with excessive stress by transference of affection or sexual attraction to a patient. This does not make it appropriate but it is important to recognise the possibility.
It is important to acknowledge that medical professionals do have feelings and desires like any other person. However it is how you respond to those feelings that is more important and the understanding that harm can occur to both the patient and practitioner when boundaries are breached. Warning signs can include:
• Seeing patients at unusual hours, particularly if no other staff are on duty
• Scheduling patients for the last hour of the day
• Recommending patients visit private consulting rooms rather than public clinics
• Giving or accepting social invitations from patients
• Talking to them about your personal life and/or revealing personal details (particularly crises or sexual desires)
Failure to recognise these signs and take action to avoid them, can cause harm to the patient and seriously damage your professional career.
Seek help and advice from a colleague or appropriate professional body on the most professional course of action to take. If as a healthcare professional you feel you cannot remain objective in respect of a patient the following steps should be taken:
• Find alternative care for the patient
• Ensure proper handover of case notes takes place with the new healthcare professional
• Hand the patient over to the new professional in such a way that the patient does not feel they have done anything wrong.
It is worth remembering that “Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners” issued by the Medical Council of Ireland states “Your professional position must never be used to form a relationship of an emotional, sexual or exploitative nature with a patient or their spouse or with a close relative of a patient.” A copy of the guide is available to download here.