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EDITOR | FOR DPC | The Pro Bono Dilemma: Saying No When It Feels Hard and Setting Healthy Boundaries With Friends and Family Who Ask You To Work For Free.

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True Story: My Physician recently told me that he left Georgia to attend a wedding in another state. When he arrived at the reception, one of those crazy uncles (lol) cornered him and said something to the effect … “Hey, great to see you! Can you look at this lab for me real quick?” and proceeded to pull out the actual x-ray at the wedding reception.

By Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief

We know that your time is valuable. But, do your friends and family? Setting appropriate and healthy boundaries with family and friends is tough.

You’re not a bad person for saying ‘No’ when someone in your friend group(s) or family asks for free medical advice. You do yourself and the people you serve who do pay for your professional advice a disservice by saying yes all the time. There’s a fine line a Physician must walk in these moments. Don’t feel guilty. Just take these tips from experts on etiquette and communication―and a cue from your favorite two-year-old―and say no.

 

A few months ago, my friend who is a Pediatrician asked me a question. ‘How do I say no to people who want me to work for free without hurting the relationship?’

It’s a challenging question. When we investigated further, we found this happens to Physicians all the time!

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It usually starts with a text or an email like this:

“Hey, sorry to bother you, but real quick … I need your opinion on something. Can you look at this […insert issue/or chief complaint here.] It should only take you a few minutes. Is this something serious? Should I be worried? Please help! Ahhh. love you!” [~insert friend or family member name here]

books special 2018_7As best selling author Jon Acuff writes, “Help me” is often code for “give me for free.” He continues to say … If this is something you want to do, then by all means, donate your time and expertise. I love that you can use your talents that way and think you should support your church, non-profit or family as often as you can.

Here are some strategies and ways current Doctors, like you, say can seriously help them set healthy boundaries with family and friends who want them to work for free. Here’s what you might want to say to a friend of family member the next time they ask you to give you quick opinion for free:

  • “I’m flattered that you asked me. But for professional reasons I’m not in a situation where I can take this on.”
  • “I know I’m going to disappoint you, but I’ve decided I’m not doing any pro bono work this year. I fear I’ll end up feeling resentful. I can recommend a Physician who may be able to help if you need?”
  • “Wow, that’s an interesting [case]. I’m really busy with my current Patients right now, so at time time I just cannot help you.”
  • “You know, I would love to help you but that is really not my area of expertise. I got a C in medical school when that class came around.”
  • “I love doing pro bono work when I can, but I just don’t have the time right now.”

Editor, Michael Tetreault of The DPC Journal/Concierge Medicine Today at the CMT 2017 FORUM in Atlanta, GA speaking to a large group or Physicians about the importance of patient-physician relationship.

Another hot button issue we learned in our investigation was the issue of “should friends [and family] should pay full price.”

Yikes! That’s a hot one.

My Physician recently told me that he left Georgia to attend a wedding in another state. When he arrived at the reception, one of those crazy uncles (lol) cornered him and said something to the effect … “Hey, great to see you! Can you look at this lab for me real quick?” and proceeded to pull out the actual x-ray at the wedding reception. True story.

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Why should you only expect a Patient off the street to treat your time and expertise with respect and pay your fee? Your friends and family should pay you the most, right!? As Acuff writes, They should be the ones that over tip! The people who love you should not try to discount your ability. It’s actually the reverse.

So, to all of those Physicians out there reading and watching, don’t undervalue yourself. Don’t under charge and do not give up your talent, time and energy unless you want to. You are worth far more to our communities than you are charging! As Acuff concluded, Those of you that care about your craft should care enough to charge for it.

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1 Response »

  1. For close family members (parents, siblings, their children), I usually help them with as much advice as I can from a distance and then direct them to a local healthcare resource where they live. For distant relatives, friends, and other acquaintances (such as church or work contacts), I usually say something like: “My malpractice insurance carrier only allows me to advise and treat patients who receive their medical care from me at my office. Would you like to schedule an appointment with me so that we can discuss this more fully?”

    It is a well established legal principle that if a physician (or even a staff member) offers medical advice to a non-established patient, that act alone incurs a duty to treat, opening the physician to medical liability, particularly if one is not familiar with that patient’s medical history or cannot confirm a diagnosis with an examination. This response to a request for free medical advice usually ends the conversation on a prompt but friendly note, not only because you are in fact offering to help in an appropriate setting, but also because it requires the patient to consider the value of that advice, either by paying you or their own physician (usually the better option anyway) for that service.

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