Opinion 8.191 - Peers as Patients
The opportunity to care for a fellow physician is a privilege and may represent a gratifying experience and serve as a show of respect or competence. In emergencies or isolated or rural settings when options for care by other physicians are limited or where there is no other qualified physician available, physicians should not hesitate to treat peers. There are, however, a number of ethical considerations to weigh before undertaking the care of a colleague.
(1) Physicians who provide care to a peer should be alerted to the possibility that their professional relationship with the patient may affect their ability to exercise objective professional judgment and make unbiased treatment recommendations. They must also recognize that the physician-patient may be reluctant to disclose sensitive information or permit an intimate examination.
(2) Physicians providing care to a professional colleague have an obligation to respect informational and physical privacy of physician-patients as they would for any patient. Treating physicians should consider, and possibly discuss with the physician-patient, how to respond appropriately to the inquiries about the physician-patient’s medical care from other physicians or medical staff. Treating physicians should also recognize that special measures may be required to ensure that the physician-patient’s physical privacy is respected.
(3) Physicians providing care to a colleague should respect the physician-patient’s right to participate in informed decision-making. Treating physicians should make no assumptions about the physician-patient’s knowledge about her or his medical condition and should provide information to enable the physician-patient to make voluntary, fully informed decisions about care.
(4) Physicians-in-training and medical students face unique challenges when asked to provide or participate in care for peers given the circumstances of their roles in medical schools and residency programs. Except in emergency situations or when other care is not available, physicians-in-training should not be required to care for fellow trainees, faculty members, or attending physicians if they are reluctant to do so. (VI)