Should You Answer Medical Questions From Clinicians You Don't Know About Patients You've Never Seen?
July 9, 2017
This email popped into my inbox the other day from a person I've never met:
Hi Dr. Sax,
There are two issues with this email worth discussing.
The easy part first -- the medical question. Here's my response:
The second item to cover is whether we should be answering questions like this at all. Remember, this is from a person I don't know, asking about a patient I've never seen.
Though I obviously responded to the query, there are a few reasons not to answer questions from clinicians you've never met about patients you haven't seen.
The medical information might not be correct, or complete enough, to make a good recommendation. If you make the wrong suggestion, or your recommendation is misquoted, there's the potential for patient harm. Even worse: if your name is in the chart, there's a medicolegal risk -- especially if you review patient data sent to you. The risk may be small, but who wants to take that chance?
And if you ask an economist, they would say it definitely makes no sense to answer these questions -- not only are you being paid nothing, but there's little chance of downstream revenues, and it takes time away from other remunerative tasks and opportunities.
But economists can be short-sighted, and this is one of those times. Obviously I thought it was better to answer the question than to ignore it for a bunch of reasons.
The bottom line is that I think we should be helping out other clinicians when we can -- it's just the right thing to do.
This article was provided by NEJM Journal Watch. NEJM Journal Watch is a publication of the Massachusetts Medical Society.
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