When I was a child visiting my grandfather, I would eagerly grab his stethoscope, blood pressure pump, and collection of medical supplies so that I could stand-in as his nurse for the day. My grandfather was a type 2 diabetic, so I was used to watching his in-home aids administer insulin and provide help with day-to-day activities.
As a little girl, my grandfather was my hero, so I wanted to be his nurse because I didn’t think the other nurses loved him the way I did. While this is an endearing thought coming from a seven year old, how ethical is it in the medical field to treat your own family?
For many of us, our love of nursing began by taking care of a sick family member, or being really touched by the love and care received from another nurse. I many cases, there is no harm in treating a friend or family member, after all, this can save a lot of money on home care costs. However, the question is still tossed around, “Is it appropriate to treat my friends and family?”
Percival’s Medical Ethics, published in 1803, argued for the separation of professional and personal identities in the care of family members. The most recent American Medical Association guidelines from the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs state, “physicians generally should not treat themselves or members of their immediate families. Professional objectivity may be compromised when an immediate family member or the physician is the patient.” Studies have shown that the influence of a physician-family member may result in increased diagnostic testing and costs; in one survey, a third of physicians reported observing another physician “inappropriately involved” in a family member’s care.
Although nothing prepares you for the time when a family member becomes sick and you’re left wondering who will provide them with the best care, is treating them personally really the wisest decision?
Some pros of the matter include:
- Saving money on nursing care
- Not worrying about abuse or malpractice
- No chance of in-home aid theft
Cons to nursing family and friends:
- You may lose the ability to remain objective
- If something were to go wrong, it would cause significant emotional trauma
- It could alter the relationship you have between a friend or family member
Guidelines to Follow
- Always acting in the best interests of the individual requesting or receiving treatment and putting those interests before those of the physician
- Practice medicine with the objectivity and professional judgment required to meet the standard of care
- Establishing and maintaining appropriate professional boundaries
- Participating in self-regulation of the medical profession by complying with the expectations set out in this policy
Three Times a Physicians must not provide treatment for themselves or family members:
- When medication is involved, particularly narcotics
- For a minor condition or in an emergency situation
- When another qualified health-care professional isreadily available
Although there is nothing illegal about nurses treating family members, the practice is highly unadvisable. What are your thoughts on the matter?