Can a doctor compliment a patient?

Flirt with patients

A deep look, a shy smile - and it's done. The heart starts beating a little faster, the knees go weak, butterflies pirouette in the stomach. According to studies, when two people meet, it is decided within seconds whether the spark will jump. But if the flirtation takes place in a doctor's office, caution is advisable. What supplies the material for countless dime novels is, in reality, quite a delicate matter.

First of all, one thing must be clear: sex between doctor and patient is taboo. The professional codes of some state medical associations expressly state that a doctor may not “establish or tolerate sexual contact” when dealing with his patients. A look at the penal code also makes it clear that this is not a trivial offense: According to Section 174c, Paragraph 1 can be more sexual Abuse using a counseling, treatment or care relationship can be punished with up to five years in prison. Abuse is, for example, when a doctor uses his or her power to make patients sexually compliant.

Such extreme, criminally relevant cases are rare. But what if romantic impulses develop between doctor and patient? The laws do not lay down any specific rules of conduct. From a legal point of view, nothing speaks against private meetings, says Katja Held, specialist lawyer for medical law at the Hamburg law firm Vorberg & Partner. The lawyer considers a coffee after the practice closes or a glass of wine in the evening to be harmless - as long as there is no sexual contact. “Otherwise you would restrict the medical professionals' personal freedom to develop too much,” she says. "Every doctor can also treat his spouse, for example."

However, every doctor has to assess for himself whether he is able to continue to objectively evaluate the patient relationship. "It is very clear that private contact and medical professional practice must be clearly separated from each other," explains Katja Held. That means: laboratory values ​​and test results have to be discussed in practice - not over a bottle of Valpolicella. If the doctor doubts whether he can actually keep the professional and the private so cleanly apart, it is better for the patient to look for another doctor.

The question of how violently flirting is allowed cannot be answered unequivocally either. Is a wink okay? A charming joke? A compliment? Doctors have to be very careful here. Because what is perceived as intrusive depends on the patient and the situation, and also on the area in which the doctor works, says the lawyer: "A gynecologist must certainly meet higher standards than an ear, nose and throat doctor."

In general, however, Katja Held advises doctors to be calm. In her law firm, she rarely has to deal with cases where doctors have to justify themselves because of a flirtation or an affair, she says: "That is rather the exception." Nevertheless, the doctor should be aware that he is a certain risk enters: Suppose he ends the relationship and the patient takes revenge for his hurt feelings with a complaint. Even if the allegations cannot be substantiated - the public prosecutor's office must start an investigation. Despite a later acquittal, there is a risk of damage to his reputation and public exposure. If the doctor has actually been guilty of something, he must expect serious consequences, including the withdrawal of his license to practice medicine, imprisonment and a civil law suit for compensation for pain and suffering.

The legal framework is one thing, the professional ethos is quite another. Because even a harmless flirtation can shake the relationship of trust between doctor and patient. Bernhard Mäulen, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy and head of the Institute for Doctors' Health, warns of the great power imbalance between the two sides, which automatically makes the patient a weaker partner: "The doctor is initially in a superior position and knows a lot more about it the patient as vice versa, ”writes the specialist.

Erotic tension therefore also harbors the risk of uncertainty: Does the doctor have to touch me for so long? Is it really medically necessary to touch at this point? These are questions about which most medical professionals want to leave no room for doubt. Bernhard Mäulen therefore advises doctors in love to hand over the patient immediately in order to rule out border violations.