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N Engl J Med. 1991 Oct 31;325(18):1290-4.

When physicians treat members of their own families. Practices in a community hospital.

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Center for Clinical Ethics, Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill 60068.



Little is known about the circumstances under which physicians care for family members. We sought to examine current practice and, in particular, to learn how often family members request medical care or treatment, whether physicians accede to such requests, and what concerns, if any, physicians have about caring for their family members.


In late 1990 we distributed a pretested, structured questionnaire to all members of the active medical staff (physicians with M.D. or D.O. degrees) of a large suburban community teaching hospital. Of 691 eligible members of the medical staff, 465 physicians responded.


Of the 465 respondents, 461 (99 percent) reported requests from family members for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. A total of 386 (83 percent of the respondents) had prescribed medication for a family member, 372 (80 percent) had diagnosed medical illnesses, 334 (72 percent) had performed physical examinations, 68 (15 percent) had acted as a family member's primary attending physician in the hospital, and 44 (9 percent) had operated on a family member. In addition, 152 (33 percent) reported that they had observed another physician "inappropriately involved" in a family member's care, and 103 (22 percent) had acceded to a specific request about which they felt uncomfortable.


Practicing physicians often attend and treat their family members and diagnose their illnesses. They may often experience some disquiet in doing so. For physicians, complete medical data, proper training, and sound judgment are essential when family members request treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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