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17-04-2011 | Article

Doctors heal themselves differently

"Physician heal thyself", is a well known and old proverb, the origins of which are described here (click here). But in the modern 21st century does this statement still hold? I personally doubt it. I think the best advice is that doctors or other healthcare professionals needing medical treatment should seek it from an independent practitioner and ideally be treated just like any other patient.

This is something that the General Medical Council has also recognised. According to the GMC's website (click here), the advice is simple: "Avoid treating yourself and those close to you".

This is good advice, as treating yourself or a close family member or friend may impede your objectivity, and in turn could potentially put your patient at risk.

Further evidence of this came in an interesting and thought-provoking article covered in the univadis GP News service (click here).

The authors of the article, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined the attitudes of a group of US-based physicians confronted with one of two hypothetical clinical scenarios. The outcome was that the treatment decision chosen by the doctors for themselves differed from the one they chose for their patient. However, according to the study, it "does not suggest that physicians always make better decisions for others than they would make for themselves".

Of course we know that medical decisions can be influenced by a number of diverse factors, including emotion and attitude, as well as perspective, knowledge and experience.

So if medical decision making processes are potentially subject to biases and other influences, it is important that we try and be as rational and objective as possible and make any decision based on best available evidence. There are the difficulties, however, of staying up to date in every medical field and finding the time to research every clinical query.

Treating somebody close to us or ourselves could critically compromise decision making processes and certainly we should no longer adhere to "Physician heal thyself". Furthermore, this research succinctly shows how medical opinion can change depending on the circumstances.


Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief

By Dr Harry Brown