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Court: Doctor's relationship with patient led to malpractice

In North Carolina, patients have important rights that must remain protected whenever a healthcare provider deviates from the standard of care. But how does one know when a doctor has indeed deviated from the standard of care? What constitutes a medical mistake?

Our Fayetteville readers might already be familiar with some types of medical mistakes that often lead to lawsuits. Prescribing the wrong medication to a patient and failing to diagnose cancer are some serious medical errors we have written about on our blog. But could an inappropriate relationship between a doctor and his or her patient also be considered medical malpractice?

According to one high court, a doctor who pursues a relationship with a patient could be committing medical malpractice if the relationship interferes with the patient's treatment and recovery. A couple of weeks ago, New York's Court of Appeals ruled that a family doctor had deviated from the standard of care when he chose to have a relationship with one of his married patients.

The relationship was sexual and it was also consensual, but in 2005, the doctor's patient sued him for breaching his professional duty to provide proper treatment. The patient was being treated for anxiety and depression while the affair lasted for nine months.

By having an affair with the patient, the patient argued that her doctor had interfered with her treatment, and the court agreed. The high court did conclude that the patient was partially responsible for what happened between her and her doctor, though. Although this case was not decided in North Carolina, it was decided by a high court and could affect how similar cases are decided in the future.

When a doctor, nurse, hospital or other medical professional deviates from the standard of care and interferes with a patient's treatment, health or recovery, the victim might be forced to suffer physical and emotional consequences. But the victim should not be expected to pay for the financial consequences of a negligent party's medical mistake. Medical malpractice claims are difficult to pursue in North Carolina, but injured patients and their families may benefit from working with an attorney who is experienced with handling these complex claims.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "NY court says affair is medical malpractice," Nov. 29, 2012

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