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5 signs your health professional is crossing the ethical line


Published: 12/09/2016

by Arielle Duke

Anyone who feels that a healthcare professional has crossed the line should contact their regulator. There are 26 colleges, accessible online from the professions/colleges section at

Crossing boundaries may work for summer travel, but it's dangerous when it comes to getting the best healthcare. Boundaries are the ethical lines around the relationship with patients or clients. Maintaining them is a fundamental responsibility for Ontario's 300,000 regulated healthcare professionals.

“Boundaries keep the relationship professional, with no focus other than the well-being of the people being served,” explains Shenda Tanchak, president of the Federation of Health Regulatory Colleges of Ontario. The colleges are the governing bodies for more than two dozen healthcare professions, holding them accountable for their conduct and practice. They warn of situations where a health professional steps out of their care provider role and into another, like close friend, colleague, business partner or romantic partner.

Boundaries are important because if they get cloudy, so can the healthcare professional's objectivity and judgment, compromising the quality of care. “Edging to or crossing boundaries can be a slippery slope,” says Tanchak. “Boundaries are there for a reason — to ensure that healthcare professionals always put the needs of the patient or client first.”

Watch for situations that can compromise care and judgment with these warning signs provided by the colleges that ethical lines are getting blurred or erased. This is especially important for children or older adults or any other vulnerable populations under your care. Look out for healthcare professionals who:

1. Make exceptions for certain patients or clients, like scheduling treatment outside office hours, providing care outside the office or not charging for services.

2. Disclose too much about their personal life or probe for inappropriate personal information that is irrelevant to the healthcare issue.

3. Exchange inappropriate gifts or favours with patients or clients.

4. Enter into a commercial/financial relationship with patients or clients, like going into business with them, giving them a job or exchanging money unrelated to providing care and services.

5. Engage in sexual abuse. In healthcare, this means not only sexual relations with a patient or client, but also touching, or behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature that aren't appropriate to clinical services. In these cases, mutual consent doesn't exist — even if patients or clients express interest in an intimate or personal relationship, it's up to the healthcare professional to keep appropriate boundaries.

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