A doctor and patient in a romantic setting

Doctor Loses After Playing the Dating Game with Patients

Is dating a patient OK as long as it's between consenting adults? The answer was unclear for Dr. Eric Rhodes—find out what happened when his affairs were discovered.

Eric Rhodes, DO, was married with three children and busy with his growing practice. He was widely considered an upstanding member of the community, involved with his church, and well-regarded by patients and peers alike.  

One day, Dr. Rhodes received a letter from the attorney general’s office requiring his appearance before the state’s Board of Medical Examiners—four women had charged him with sexual misconduct. He'd also received notice of a separate civil court action that the women were seeking substantial financial settlements.

The Background 

Several years earlier, Dr. Rhodes became sexually intimate with Carrie, an office employee who was also a patient of the practice. According to Dr. Rhodes, he and Carrie were both in unhappy marriages, and their relationship was consensual. The affair came to an amiable end after six months; Carrie left Dr. Rhodes’ employment to open a massage therapy office.  

Dr. Rhodes later became sexually involved with two other patients—Lindsay and Georgia. Both relationships were consensual and ended on friendly terms. In fact, Lindsay was hired to work in Dr. Rhodes’ office. 

Two years after all the affairs had ended, Dr. Rhodes’ extracurricular activities were exposed when Lindsay visited Carrie’s massage therapy office for treatment. Dr. Rhodes’ name came up during conversation, and initially, both women had positive things to say about him personally and professionally. However, as the conversation progressed, they discovered their respective relationships with the doctor, and they eventually found out about Georgia, the third patient intimately involved with Dr. Rhodes. And to further complicate the issue, a fourth woman claimed that she and Dr. Rhodes also had a sexual relationship—a claim that Dr. Rhodes vehemently denied. Together, the women decided to take legal action, and Dr. Rhodes received a notice requiring his appearance before the state’s Board of Examiners. 

What Happened During the Hearing? 

During a hearing before the Medical Board, Dr. Rhodes was found guilty of four counts of sexual misconduct, and his license was suspended for two years. At the end of two years, he could apply for reactivation of his medical license if he: 

  • Required to take 20 hours of patient boundary CLE courses.  
  • Receive professional counseling on patient boundaries, and 
  • Have his office supervised by a former Board member who would provide semi-annual reports to the Board, verifying Dr. Rhodes’s completion of the requirements. 

In addition, because of the civil action brought by the four women, and no justifiable defenses, Dr. Rhodes had to pay each of the plaintiffs an out-of-court settlement. 

The resulting publicity severely affected Dr. Rhodes’ family and his practice. He and his wife got divorced, his professional reputation was tarnished, and his patient flow dwindled. 

Two years and three months later, after complying with the Board’s requirements, Dr. Rhodes’ license was reinstated. Before he could resume practice, however, he was required to have a female on staff observe interactions with female patients and make other changes to his office policies. 

Dr. Rhodes returned to his practice and was ultimately able to prosper again, but only after learning a costly lesson and paying an enormous personal, financial, and professional price. 

What Can We Learn? 

Never become involved with a patient or employee.

If a sexual relationship is inevitable, the patient or employee can no longer remain your patient or employee. Immediately refer the person to another doctor for care and/or dismiss them as an employee. (Note: Some states never permit a doctor to date a former patient—no matter how much time has elapsed.) 

Claiming the relationship was consensual is not a viable defense.

There is an inherent imbalance of power in a doctor-patient relationship and in an employer-employee relationship. It is always the doctor’s responsibility to look out for the patient’s best interest. Doctors are held to higher professional and ethical standards than the rest of society. 

Don't become involved in patients’ and employees’ personal issues.

Keep your relationships professional to avoid inappropriate involvement with a patient or employee. 

Don't disclose personal problems and other personal information to patients. 

Don't make the mistake of thinking the relationship is special and the individual would never turn on you. This assumption has proven false repeatedly—often with devastating results for everyone involved, especially the doctor whose career and reputation may be on the line. 

If you're tempted to enter a sexual relationship with a patient or employee, consider all the potential consequences and ask yourself: Is it worth it? 

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