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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturday--The "Family" Doc

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Survivor Saturday--The "Family" Doc

Those of you with husbands in residency (or even some in medical school) are probably already aware of the phenomenon known as "free advice". Because your spouse is a physician, there are people in your life who will take advantage of that fact and will try to get his opinion on everything from the tiny little paper cut on their pinkie finger to the current health care crisis in America, regardless of his chosen specialty. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory, and I must admit that I'm guilty of it, too.

At no time was it more true for me than when I was pregnant with our son, since my husband was in his OB/Gyn residency then. Although I had my own OB to whom I went for my monthly visits, it was always much more convenient to turn to my husband when I had some question or concern weighing on my mind, like when I realized I had spent time in a hot tub before I even knew I was pregnant. I still occasionally go to him for advice, but I always feel guilty about it, since I've always had some notion that it's unethical to ask my own husband about such things. However, he's never seemed bothered by my concerns, especially when they really are something about which to be concerned. I don't know about your husbands, but mine never appears to get upset or anxious about anything. He's always been the calm, cool, collected one in our relationship, which is probably one of the reasons why I married him. He handles everything objectively and rationally, so when something doesn't seem to bother him, then I try to make certain it doesn't bother me either, even when we discovered our son was in a breech position late in my pregnancy and never turned before his birth.

It's probably my husband's calm, rational demeanor that gives some of our family members the idea it's okay to ask him about their particular medical conditions. If you haven't experienced this yet, it will definitely happen at some point after your husband starts practicing medicine. One day, he'll get a call from a parent or a sibling or a friend wanting to know what could possibly be causing this particular pain in this particular part of the body or why this particular thing is happening to this part of the body or whatever. I don't exactly know what our husbands are told in medical school or residency about how to handle these situations, but mine is usually fairly nice when it happens. He either gives his honest opinion if it's something that is within his realm of expertise, or he tells the person that he/she should seek the advice of another physician for his/her situation.

Sometimes, someone will ask your husband about his opinion on a medical diagnosis given them by their own physician. This has also happened to my husband, who told the person that they should seek advice from a specialist, and although nothing really came of it, it could have caused trouble, because the person went back to their physician and told him about my husband's advice. I'm sure no physician likes to hear that his/her patient is going behind his/her back for medical information, unless he/she recommends a second opinion in the first place. Of course, with the advent of the Internet and the massive amount of medical websites that are available to everyone, physicians are dealing with this all the time. But, I digress.

Another situation that may arise is a family member or friend may ask your husband for a new prescription or a refill on an existing prescription. Maybe someone else with more experience can weigh in on the ethics of this practice, which I have a feeling is illegal, unless the person is actually his patient. I, personally, have asked my husband to help me get a refill on my EpiPen (which still hasn't happened, because we both have been too busy to really think about it), but I go to his office for my medical care, so, technically, he is my physician. I still feel weird that I asked for it, though.

Any number of things can happen because your husband is now a physician. It can be much worse when he's a physician from a medical family. My husband's mother is a nurse, and his two sisters are both pharmacists. I'm not going to get into specifics, but I have heard so many arguments over certain drugs or the latest medical opinions on specific diseases or diagnostic tests that I sometimes just want to walk out of the room and find a quiet place to myself. It can all be so annoying and frustrating to the wife of a physician (and, most likely, the physician himself), but I think the most important thing is how the physician deals with these situations as they arise. If he knows when it's okay to speak his mind and when he should just walk away, then I think he's definitely cut out for the medical profession. But, of course, that's just my opinion. :)
Amanda--wife of an OB/Gyn and survivor

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Anonymous Mrs. D said...

This is a great post! Not only is my husband a physician, but my father is too, so I've witnessed this phenomenon of asking for free advice a billion times. It makes me feel simultaneously perplexed and proud that random people - sometimes perfect strangers - immediately trust my father/husband enough to ask for advice about something extremely personal.

But I've always been uncomfortable with the boundaries issue. It's one thing, I think, for a direct relative to ask for advice/prescriptions (although I, too, am fuzzy on the ethics of that)... but it's a whole different animal when a friend or distant relative asks for a script.

Another concern about the "free advice" thing is the liability issue. If someone asks for advice outside of the hospital/doctor's office, and your spouse complies, doesn't that raise all sorts of hairy legal issues?

I hope other spouses weigh in on this. It's a really interesting topic.

September 26, 2009 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

My husband gives free advice all the time, and he does it willingly and happily. He has also been in several situations where a friend, a family member of a friend, or an actual family member has been in a medical crisis situation, and he has talked directly to their doctor, then talked to the patient to "translate" what is going on. Doctors are always very willing to talk to other doctors, even outside of their own specialty.

As far as the writing prescriptions thing, it is most definitely illegal. The AMA has cracked down on this in the last few years. A doctor can actually have his license revoked for writing a script w/out a chart. Having said that, if you are hypothetically in a situation where you or your child needs a straightforward antibiotic on a weekend and you're out of town, he can probably get away with prescribing it. Hypothetically. Or if you are doubled over in pain on a Saturday night from your third UTI and your husband calls in the same Rx that your OB prescribed for you - that could be ok, too. Hypothetically.

Bottom line, your doctor husband can (and should) use his powers for good - advising someone what they need to ask their doctor is good, translating the medical lingo is good, writing an Rx for narcotics for a friend (or anyone other than his own patients) is bad.

September 26, 2009 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger JumpingJane said...

My SO's father is a Dr, and mother is a nurse so I hear you on the discussions/arguing about different medications and asking for advice.

This isn't the only field it happens in. My dad is an investor adviser for stocks and bonds and I can't tell you how many people try to get free advice out of him. In any field that someone is an authority on, its just rude to try and get free advice. I know there are occasions when its OK to ask a small question here or there, but to want someone to fully check you out or give you prescriptions can be crossing over the line.

September 26, 2009 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Dr. T said...

My husband, 2nd year Family Medicine Resident, gets asked advice ALL the time. Especially from my sisters and parents...AND you would NOT believe how many phone calls he gets from his mother asking advice for church friends!!! Seriously, it gets crazy, but we all realize that it comes with the territory! I am a music teacher, I get asked questions all the time outside of work about music. BUT at least mine is not life or death! But seriously, when he is asked questions, he gives his "opinion" but ALWAYS says, "This is definitely something you need to speak with your primary care physician about in their office”.
As for the medication, he would never write or phone in a prescription for a friend or family member. Especially me (and trust me, I’ve asked)! He just tells me, and others, that it is illegal to phone prescriptions in unless they are “under his care”. Even though he won’t write a prescription for me, he will contact my primary care physician (they work in the same system) so that I don’t have to make an appointment to see him just to request a medication. He tells my doctor the situation, and my doctor usually takes care of it.

September 28, 2009 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Brad actually loves it when people ask him questions. He went into this field because he wants to help people. Of course, after giving his opinion, he'll tell them if he thinks they should see a doctor, but sometimes people don't know if it is worth paying the copay to go, ya know?

September 28, 2009 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My FIL is a physician, and he has a chart for all of us at his office. When he writes us a script for something, he puts a copy in our charts. Therefore, he's doing what he should. Mostly, it's antibiotics and stuff.

September 28, 2009 at 3:04 PM  

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