Allegations of patient abuse arise when patients contend that the physician violated one of the professional boundaries that describe the limits of the physician-patient relationship for personal benefit. Boundary violations in this context imply physician behavior that seems to exploit a patient either sexually, financially, or emotionally. Examples include: making arrangements to meet with a patient outside of regular office hours and/or out of the normal office setting; accepting or giving expensive gifts to patients; entering into financial deals with patients; and sharing an inappropriate amount of information about the physician's private life or using the patient for emotional support.
Avoiding boundary violations, or the perception of them, is the most effective way to avoid allegations of patient abuse. Physicians can best protect themselves from these allegations by developing and nurturing a caring, respectful relationship with patients, thus keeping misunderstandings to a minimum. For patients new to the physician's practice, the presence of chaperones or additional caregivers during certain examinations or procedures can reduce concern for both patients and providers. Empathy for the patient, sensitivity to cultural differences, and a willingness to explain the reasons for treatment that may seem to the patient to be unnecessary or embarrassing are all indicative of a respectful relationship.