Treating A Loved One

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I’ve discussed this topic with several classmates but am surprised that I’ve never written about it – as a physician, would you treat a loved one?

One of last week’s behavioral science lecturers put forth a hypothetical scenario – when a patient sits in front of you, musters up his or her case, and tries to sway you to their end of the doctor-patient relationship, listen to your gut feeling. If your conscience tells you that “this isn’t right” or you’re just not comfortable with the situation, don’t continue to treat. Every patient deserves a physician who can adhere to the finest standard of healthcare, and if you can’t provide it, there’s nothing wrong in referring the patient elsewhere.

So what if this patient is a member of your family or a close friend? Are you obligated to treat, should you avoid the case entirely, or is it a toss-up?

I imagine most physicians prefer not to treat people they’re closely acquainted with for various reasons:

  • Scared they might mess up and jeopardize the relationship.
  • Might cause other family members to also seek help.
  • Relationship might interfere with medical judgment and ethics due to inherent bias.

I’ve always been the other way. If I’m a specialist in some field ‘X’, and a loved one needs to see someone with ‘X’ training, I want to be the physician in the room. I really don’t intend to sound arrogant, but I just wouldn’t trust anyone else in this case. Yes, there’s the possibility that I could kill a loved one, but it’s a decision that, at the current time, I can see myself still making. Though this could change once I actually start practicing, I think that having a family member’s well being in the hands of another family member is the best situation… for both parties. Again, this is just my humble, first-year medical student opinion and by no means do I wish to sound arrogant.

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