At some point during your career as a family physician, a friend or family member has likely asked you for medical advice or treatment, perhaps because they couldn’t reach their regular doctor or didn’t have one. This can be a difficult situation and raises a number of ethical concerns.
The American Medical Association and similar organizations warn that patient-physician relationships can be complicated by pre-existing social and emotional relationships. They recommend the following:
1. First consider alternative sources of care for these patients or referrals to other providers. Take care of friends and family only as a last option.
2. Treat patients with whom you have a prior nonprofessional relationship only if they have a short-term, minor problem or an emergent medical condition.
3. In cases where you do treat friends or family, set expectations up front and make every effort to treat them with the same professional judgement you would use for other patients.
Adapted from “The Ethics of Caring for Friends or Family.”
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