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Message board set alight for debate on family as patients

22 June 2015

Message board set alight for debate on family as patients

Whether or not to treat family and friends is certainly not an easy issue. It raises all sorts of tricky issues. Beginning a discussion on an online forum concerning the American Medical Association’s recommendation not to treat close friends or family members, Medscape have compiled some of the many insightful and contrasting responses to the question “How often do you give medical advice or provide medical care to your friends and family?”

One primary care physician wrote: “If we keep all the knowledge to ourselves, aren't we doing a disservice to society? We were celebrating [with family] the other day and all the little kids were wrestling with their uncle. My three-year-old came to me crying that uncle had hurt her bones in her arm... I made her come to me, and without a word I relocated her elbow. She screamed, and everyone was shocked until I told them what I had done... How could I have not treated her?”

An oncologist echoed this view, commenting: “There are many family members who are still alive thanks to older doctors who fortunately had enough common sense and influence in their care to effect an outcome that would have been otherwise disastrous. The bureaucracy doesn't have a clue [about] day-to-day medical practice in the trenches.”

Many others, however, refuse to treat family members, or even offer advice. One ophthalmologist wrote: “My dad doesn't understand why I refer him to his physician every time he complains of a problem. I am the doctor who doesn't want to help family. I am getting used to it anyway and fighting it out, trying to make them understand my dilemma in the matter.”

One A&E physician regretted advice he’d given for free: “I cleaned out a nasty wound and prescribed some Augmentin® for my landscaper when a neighborhood dog bit him. He was very gracious and thanked me profusely, saying how much a trip to the ER would have cost him out of pocket. Weeks later he billed me full charge for some mulch and yard work... Does a plumber unclog your pipes for free? Does an electrician do your wiring out of the goodness of his heart?”

One neurologist tried to see all sides of the argument. He said: “If advice to friends and family causes harm, then it has negative implications. On the other hand, if advice prevents harm, or leads to a more optimal outcome, then it has positive implications. It's like everything else in life; you win some and you lose some.”

So what do you think? Is it okay to treat close friends and family, and to give them advice? Or should it be avoided where possible? Comment below and tell us what you think…

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