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Lonely regional doctors: Should rules against dating ex-patients be changed?

Luke Grant

A rural doctor has asked the Medical Board of Australia to relax rules which preclude physicians from having relationships with former patients.

Practitioners in the bush are reportedly struggling on the relationship front, as nearly all potential partners in rural towns are also their patients.

A doctor can potentially be struck off for having a relationship with a patient.

But according to a letter penned by an anonymous doctor, this kind of relationship-avoidance is causing endemic loneliness and putting physicians off going to regional communities.

Despite this, Peta Rutherford from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia says the rules are there for a reason.

“There is a power differential in the relationship with a doctor and a patient and it needs to be recognised,” says Rutherford.

“The doctors themselves need to really think about what the situation is. Certainly, if a patient has things like a mental health issue that you’re treating them for or if you’ve treated them for obstetrics or gynaecological conditions, it’s a no-go zone.”

“If you’ve had a one-off consultation for an ingrown toenail, that might be a little different.”

Rutherford’s ultimate message is that if a doctor senses a potential relationship with a patient could be on the horizon, they should consult help.

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Luke Grant
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