Sexual Boundary Violations by Doctors - Context, Regulatory Consequences and Preventive Strategies

J Law Med. 2024 May;31(1):70-87.

Abstract

While sexual boundary violations by doctors (SBVs) are viewed with utmost seriousness by disciplinary bodies and tribunals, complaints of SBVs in Australia continue to increase. In 2023, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) outlined a "blueprint" to protect patients better from sexual misconduct in healthcare: reform being considered in 2024, by Australian health ministers. Few analyses or studies have offered an overview of the prevalence, effects, and causes of SBVs, nor the duties, liabilities, possible disciplinary action against, and potential treatment of, doctors who commit them. This column offers such an overview, and considers, additionally, whether doctors who may have psychiatric disorders associated with their boundary violations would be suitable candidates for treatment. Ultimately, we contend that a purely "responsive" approach is inadequate, and preventive measures such as screening and more effective education should be considered in medical schools as a way of reducing the incidence of SBVs.

Keywords: boundary crossing; health practitioner misconduct; medical practice; sexual boundary violations.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*
  • Professional Misconduct / legislation & jurisprudence