Fielding medical requests from friends and family can be a complex issue for physicians to navigate, according to research published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Researchers conducted a qualitative study of 7 focus groups consisting of junior (resident) and senior physicians to assess the themes present in physicians’ opinions.  .

Results indicated a number of factors that informed the physician decision-making process when confronted with non-patient requests. Typically, the first considerations were found to be situational: physicians assessed the who, what, and where of the request. One of the study participants was quoted as saying, “If it’s at a party, then the answer’s ‘no.’ At that moment, I’m not a physician, just a guest at the party. Unless, of course, that it’s something very serious, a life-or-death situation that I have to deal with. Otherwise, they need to go to their own physician or call me at another time.”

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Additional factors include the nature of the relationship to the non-patient, confidence in one’s skills, and work-life balance. Physicians across the board were more likely to feel an obligation to treat loved ones, and the more senior physicians expressed greater trust in their skills overall. In a similar fashion, junior physicians cited a struggle with separating their personal lives from their work, whereas senior physicians had amassed strategies to handle such situations.

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Some of the study participants also expressed concerns about disturbing the relationship between non-patients and their own physicians. They felt that by treating a non-patient, they could be interfering with the work of that person’s own physician. According to a quote from a junior participant, “It is also good that the patient’s own family physician is able to keep tabs on things…So if I go ahead and sort out problems for people and they have, for example, the same trouble every month, the physician will be unaware that this is a recurrent problem each month…and loses the overview.”

The investigators found that group discussions between junior and senior physicians allowed junior physicians to develop strategies to weigh the various factors when considering treating a non-patient. Such discussions could assist in understanding and navigating the grey area of non-patient requests.


Giroldi E, Freeth R, Hanssen M, et al. Family physicians managing medical requests from family and friends [published online March 19, 2018]. Ann Fam Med. doi:10.1370/afm.2152