The College of Optometrists

Maintaining boundaries

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Sub-sections

Key points

  • You are in a position of trust with your patients and their carers and you must not abuse that professional position.
  • Sexual or inappropriate emotional relationships with current or former patients are likely to cross professional boundaries.
  • You should seek advice from a colleague or professional body if you are in doubt about maintaining professional boundaries.
  • You should also alert colleagues to the risks of unprofessional behaviour and report their actions if they are putting patients at risk.

Principles of maintaining boundaries

C115
You must never abuse your professional position,168 for example by pursuing a sexual or inappropriate emotional relationship with a patient or their carer.
C116
You are in a position of trust with your patients and you should maintain appropriate boundaries in how you communicate with your patients and their carers.
C117
You should not express personal beliefs, including political, religious and moral beliefs, to patients in ways that could exploit them if they are vulnerable or which might distress them.
C118
The definition of a carer in this section of guidance is a family member, partner or friend who looks after the patient to the extent that they are part of their clinical experience, for example a parent who accompanies their child to hospital.

References

168 General Optical Council (2010) Code of conduct [accessed 1 Jly 2013]

Current patients

C119
If a patient or their carer pursues a sexual or inappropriate emotional relationship with you, you may need to seek advice from a colleague or professional or representative body to decide on the best course of action.
C120
If the situation cannot be resolved you should not continue to treat the patient.

Former patients

C121
You should think carefully before pursuing a personal relationship with a former patient or carer. However consensual a relationship appears to be, if a complaint is made the onus will always be on you to show you have acted professionally and sought appropriate advice.169
C122
A sexual or personal relationship with a former patient or their carer may be inappropriate because:
  1. your professional relationship with them ended recently
  2. your former professional relationship may still influence the relationship
  3. the patient was vulnerable when you were treating them and may still be vulnerable, or
  4. you may still be caring for other members of the patient’s family.

Colleagues

C123
If you are aware that a colleague or other healthcare professional has breached personal or sexual boundaries with a patient or carer you should speak to the colleague, if possible, and alert them to the dangers of this unprofessional behaviour.
C124
If you are asked for advice by a colleague who feels attracted to a patient or carer but has not acted inappropriately you are not required to inform anyone. You should remind your colleague that they must not abuse their professional position.
C125
If you consider a colleague is putting patients at risk you should consult the relevant professional, representative or regulatory body. See section on Raising concerns.
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