Treating Patients Who Are Doctors, Too

As more medical workers find themselves needing care themselves, today’s physicians need to learn how to navigate the tricky landscape of administering it to fellow doctors.

We first introduced you to author and blogger Catelyn Aliana Jones in her article We’re Losing Our Colleagues to Mental Health Issues Caused by COVID-19. Her guest blog served as part two of our Mental Health in Medicine series. We are excited to welcome back Catelyn in her newest article Treating Patients Who Are Doctors, Too. Join us as we take a look at how doctors can best care for their patients who are physicians, too.


In our research for part one of Mental Health in Medicine: The Burnout Breakdown, we found that physicians face an increased risk of mental health challenges due to burnout from unhealthy workplace environments. Poor communication, leadership and collaboration problems, as well as a lack of positive feedback, are some of the main culprits attributed to workplace burnout. Moreover, SymptomFind's article on how long work weeks affect mental health, points out that work environments that allow little time for self-care can have a detrimental effect on physical health as well. When hospital stress invites poor eating habits and reduced sleep, it can cause long-term health problems such as weight gain and decreased cognitive function. The increase in stress doctors are facing during today’s global health crisis may mean they need additional care. And as more workers find themselves needing care themselves, today’s physicians need to learn how to navigate the tricky landscape of administering it to fellow doctors. Encourage open communication Your doctor-patient will naturally have more extensive knowledge of medical information than the average patient. This can cause potential conflicts in opinion, especially if your patient feels that seeking outside treatment diminishes their skill as a physician. The trick is to find the right balance between what your patient wants and what you believe is best. By fostering open communication, you can easily come to a compromise. When providing information, just remember to give as much detail as you can and encourage your patient to ask questions to make sure they fully understand the implications of each treatment option. Set clear boundaries Empathy is a valuable part of all medical care. However, Dr. Debashish Debnath notes that doctors risk diminishing the quality of communication when they over-identify with their patients or become too sociable. It is natural to build a rapport with an individual that shares your experiences, but make sure that you both acknowledge and understand your role as a patient and as a physician. You can approach their care through the informative model of doctor-patient relationships (DPRs). According to an overview of DPR by MVOrganizing, the informative model encourages physicians to consider a patient’s values and beliefs when recommending possible treatments. This gives doctor-patients, in particular, the freedom to select their own intervention. This way, you narrow down their options to what you believe is best while allowing them to direct their own care. Depending on the individual, the deliberative and interpretive approaches may work well as they allow you to offer your own input and help your patient choose the treatment that’s best for their situation. Don’t make assumptions about patient knowledge Sometimes, physicians might provide incomplete information about diagnoses and treatment because they overestimate how knowledgeable their doctor-patient is about their condition. Treatment may also run incomplete if the physician assumes that their doctor-patients are making the correct health choices related to their condition. While you might not need to explain basic medical concepts related to their care, it could help to discuss the information in detail, or even provide them with related medical literature. Additionally, oversee their condition the same way you would any regular patient: ask for their medical history, perform the appropriate examinations, and remind them regularly about monitoring their symptoms and completing prescribed treatments. The global health crisis has placed more doctors in need of medical care. Doctors who find themselves administering treatment to their fellow physicians can navigate the potential awkwardness and contention of this arrangement by setting clear boundaries, encouraging open communication, and managing care the same way they would for regular patients.


Catelyn Aliana Jones is a freelance writer with a strong interest in healthcare. Catelyn is also an advocate for mental health acceptance in the medical community. When she isn’t working on her latest piece, Catelyn practices painting in her free time.


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