When Relatives and Friends Ask Physicians for Medical Advice: Ethical, Legal, and Practical Considerations
Physicians often are asked for advice about medical matters by relatives and friends. These range from requests for simple information to requests for medical opinion and judgment and more substantial involvement by the physician. I comment on the motivations and expectations of the requester and the physician, and the legal, ethical, and practical considerations related to such requests. I recommend: (1) Be clear about the expectations of the requester and yourself, including whether you are being asked for simple factual information, your medical judgment and opinion, or more substantial involvement in the situation. (2) Treat your interactions with relatives or friends with the same professional expertise and judgment as you would any patient. (3) Be aware that a physical examination and especially charging a fee strengthen the establishment of a legal relationship with the requester as your patient. (4) Respect the requester’s autonomy and confidentiality and conform to HIPAA requirements where applicable. (5) Be aware of the potential conflict between your roles as a relative or friend and as a physician.