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Fam Med. 2012 Jul-Aug;44(7):471-7.

When doctor becomes patient: challenges and strategies in caring for physician-patients.

Author information

1
University of Iowa, USA. aedomeyer@gmail.com

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES:

The current study was aimed at exploring the challenges that arise in the doctor-patient relationship when the patient is also a physician and identifying strategies physicians use to meet these challenges. No previous research has systematically investigated primary care physicians' perspectives on caring for physician-patients.

METHODS:

Family medicine (n=15) and general internal medicine (n=14) physicians at a large Midwestern university participated in semi-structured interviews where they were asked questions about their experiences with physician-patients and the strategies they used to meet the unique needs of this patient population. Thematic analysis was used to identify common responses.

RESULTS:

Three of the challenges most commonly discussed by physician participants were: (1) maintaining boundaries between relationships with colleagues or between roles as physician/colleague/friend, (2) avoiding assumptions about patient knowledge and health behaviors, and (3) managing physician-patients' access to informal consultations, personal test results, and opinions from other colleagues. We were able to identify three main strategies clinicians use in addressing these perceived challenges: (1) Ignore the physician-patient's background, (2) Acknowledge the physician-patient's background and negotiate care, and (3) Allow care to be driven primarily by the physician-patient.

CONCLUSIONS:

It is important that primary care physicians understand the challenges inherent in treating physicians and develop a strategy with which they are comfortable addressing them. Explicitly communicating with the physician-patient to ensure boundaries are maintained, assumptions about the physician-patient are avoided, and physician-patient access is properly managed are key to providing quality care to physician-patients.

PMID:
22791531
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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