Do patients respect the line? Transgression of boundaries reported by Swiss general practitioners.

Research paper by Alexander A Hänsel, Matthias M Nübling, Wolf A WA Langewitz

Indexed on: 22 Jul '08Published on: 22 Jul '08Published in: Patient Education and Counseling


Transgression of boundaries in the relationship between physician and patient is commonly studied with patient as victim and physician as transgressor. A recent survey in the U.S. reported that almost 90% of physicians face transgression by patients over one year. Incidents happened mainly through verbal abuse, disregarding privacy, and overly affectionate behavior. Since this incidence seems to be alarmingly high, we were interested to analyze how often general practitioners in Switzerland experience transgression by patients.24% of the members of the Swiss Society of Internal Medicine (SGIM) and of the Swiss Society of General Medicine (SGAM) (n=675/2781) responded to an internet-based survey which asked for experiences of transgression by patients and for physicians' responses to transgression in the last 12 months.81% of responding physicians experienced transgression over the period of one year. Analyzing the frequency of incidents per physician per year, the most common forms of transgression were 'use of physician's first name' (7.7/y), 'asking personal questions' (1.8/y), 'being verbally abusive' (1.5/y), and 'being overly affectionate' (1.4/y). Calculated incidence of transgression was 3 per 1000 patient contacts. 39% of physicians decided to ignore the incident, 37% discussed the event openly. Transgression led to dismissal of patients in 13% of events.Transgression even in mild and modest form is a rare phenomenon in Swiss practices.The Swiss data do not suggest that there is a specific risk for Swiss practitioners to be exposed to major transgression for which they should specifically be prepared for example in communication skills trainings.