Sharon Ufberg, DC examines the unique challenges practitioners face when their patient is a colleague.

by Sharon Ufberg, DC

Perhaps it is my senior position coupled with the advancing age of my peers and colleagues, but I am witnessing too often these days, an ever increasing occurrence. This is the delicate relationship that occurs when one of our colleagues becomes our patient. The phenomenon of the practitioner becoming a patient and how we, as the treating doctors, manage this relationship with our colleagues, is a situation that is rarely discussed but needs attention.

I have observed that more often than not, the practitioner as patient self manages his or her own healthcare. The practitioner as patient may go to see a colleague for assistance but they are rarely a passive bystander in their treatment decision or protocol. This method of “team treating” by the treating practitioner and the practitioner as patient works fine if one is dealing with less serious medical issues. Where I see this model fall apart is when a crisis or life threatening problem arises and the practitioner as patient is still holding the reins for all of the most complex decisions.

It is a unique scenario when you believe your patient knows as much or more than you do about their condition and treatment options. It is difficult to play advisor to another practitioner but it is our duty to use our best judgment and treat one another as any other patient. We will make better initial decisions, do more thorough evaluations and examinations and give better advice and follow up when we relate to our practitioner as patient in this way.

I am concerned when I hear about the practitioner as patient who is scheduling his own surgery or chemotherapy program. This practitioner as patient deserves more oversight. Why do we assume that our colleague is more able to cope with the emotional trauma of a devastating diagnosis than any other patient? Why do we allow a very sick person to decide what intervention to choose for him or herself when we are clearly in a better position to provide guidance?

The reason a colleague chooses to go to a particular practitioner is likely because he or she has witnessed the successful management of other patients’ care. This is the expectation the colleague has regarding the care he or she will receive. By relegating all the important decisions to the practitioner as patient, we are in many ways abandoning our responsibility for their health and well being.

It is my hope that we will honor our fellow practitioners, their knowledge and expertise by allowing them to partner in their care in appropriate ways. Every patient has an important role to assume in their healthcare decisions but the primary obligation rests on the shoulders of the treating practitioner. Let’s take better care of one another, starting now.

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