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Originally published Saturday, November 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Policy forbids doctors dating patients

The Associated Press The state medical board has adopted a sexual-misconduct policy that includes a ban on doctors dating patients, despite...

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

The state medical board has adopted a sexual-misconduct policy that includes a ban on doctors dating patients, despite objections from lawyers and a doctors group.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission has considered such a rule for about six years.

Supporters say the new policy helps target misconduct that falls short of obvious sexual contact, but opponents counter that it could be used to unfairly strip the licenses of good doctors.

The measure passed unanimously at the commission's meeting Friday in Renton, state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said.

The medical board has received at least 160 complaints of sexual misconduct by doctors and physician assistants since 1998. About 20 percent resulted in disciplinary action.

New rules for doctors and physician assistants


Examples of sexual misconduct with patients prohibited by Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission

• All types of sex and sexual contact.

• Kissing "in a romantic or sexual manner."

• Examining or touching genitals without wearing gloves.

• Touching "any sexualized body part" for purposes not related to treatment or examination.

• Failing to provide patients with privacy as they dress or undress.

• Offering to provide drugs or other medical-related services in exchange for sex.

• Soliciting a date.

• Discussing the physician's sexual history, preferences or fantasies.

Source: The Associated Press

The other complaints weren't necessarily invalid, but the board has limited ways to act, said Mike Farrell, a medical board attorney. Before the new policy, there was a ban on sexual contact and a prohibition on "moral turpitude."

Every doctor and physician assistant in the state will be subject to the measure once it takes effect in about two months, The News Tribune newspaper reported.

The policy lists 11 prohibited acts, and those who violate the rules could lose their licenses. The list includes sexual contact, but also says providers can't kiss patients "in a romantic or sexual manner," ask them for dates, or fail to allow privacy while patients undress.

"This would create a bright line," board member Hampton Irwin said. "If they step over it, they know there will be consequences."

But the Washington State Medical Association and some doctors' lawyers say the rule isn't needed.

The state already has the power to prosecute valid sexual-misconduct allegations, said John Arveson, the medical association's professional-affairs director.

Opponents also say the new rules could allow innocent medical providers to be accused of wrongdoing. The ban on dating patients could be unfair because, in a small town, "the doctor may not have anyone else to date," attorney Thomas Fain wrote in a March letter to the board.

Other health professionals already operate under sexual-misconduct rules similar to the new policy for doctors and physician assistants.

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