When patients personally know their anesthesiologist

One of the things I most enjoy about being an anesthesiologist is the wide variety of patients that I see. You never know who you’re going to have the privilege to care for on a given day. Although my group is large, I will occasionally be assigned to a patient that I personally know. And occasionally, someone I know will request me as their anesthesiologist.

Last month I took care of a friend who requested me for her surgery. It was a very straightforward case, everything went smoothly, and she expressed abundant gratitude at the end of her experience. I was also asked to do anesthesia by a friend for a surgery that, knowing her history, was going to be fairly complicated. That one gave me pause, but I did it, and everything turned out well.

Some physicians have a hard and fast rule of not treating friends or family members, while others will oblige under more acute circumstances. Prescribing an antibiotic to someone you know is one thing, but I would venture to say that being an anesthesiologist or surgeon to a friend adds an even further layer of complexity because there is an immediate “life and death” aspect to patient care in those areas of practice. However, either fortunately or unfortunately, patients don’t usually appreciate this.

Patients can feel a great sense of empowerment in choosing their own anesthesiologist. A good attitude and feeling of internal control going into surgery can translate to less stress on the patient and better overall recovery. During my residency, I underwent major brain surgery. At first, I thought it would be awkward to be personally acquainted with my surgeon and anesthesiologist, but out of convenience and timeliness, I chose to have the surgery at my own institution. I was able to choose my anesthesiologist, who at the time was one of my supervisors and is now one of my partners. In the end, I felt immense comfort in personally knowing my health care team.

On the other hand, there is the phenomenon called VIP syndrome. Taking care of a VIP, whether it be a famous person or a friend, can subconsciously make people overthink and do things slightly differently, rendering their normal processes vulnerable to error. What if your friend suffers an adverse event under your care? And are your decisions objective enough in the situation?

Doctors, what say you? How do you feel about taking care of friends and/or family members? Patients, do you have any experiences being treated by a doctor you know personally?

Dawn L. Baker is an anesthesiologist who blogs at PracticeBalance and Mothers in Medicine, where this post was originally published. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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