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Med J Aust. 2004 Oct 4;181(7):380-3.

Crossing professional boundaries in medicine: the slippery slope to patient sexual exploitation.

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University of Adelaide, Lyell McEwin Health Service, Adelaide, SA, Australia.


While some cases of sexual exploitation involve predatory doctors, many other cases represent the culmination of a series of boundary crossings (non-exploitative departures from usual practice). The deliberate move to reduce formality in medicine has increased the likelihood of boundary crossings and violations. There are also individual doctor risk factors; boundary violations appear more likely when doctors are under stress, with insufficient emotional support. Preventive strategies include continuing education about ethics and the management of professional boundaries, along with appropriate psychological support structures for doctors. Doctors are often involved in other professional relationships as teachers, supervisors and team leaders; inappropriate sexual behaviour in these relationships is harassment. Public pressure for more punitive responses is likely if the profession is not seen to be doing all it can to deal with these issues effectively, and to be cooperating with other responsible agencies.

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