How to Handle Medical Questions from Friends and Family
“Do you think this rash is poison ivy, or something worse?” “My co-worker has been feeling really tired lately, what could be wrong with her?” It’s not unusual for EMTs and paramedics to receive lots of unsolicited questions, once people know what you do for a living. It can be uncomfortable or annoying, but that’s not all. You need to be careful for legal, ethical, and personal reasons. Handle medical questions from friends and family very carefully.
Looking for Trustworthy, Easy Answers
It’s human nature to tend to trust those we know. People are more likely to first consult their cousin the lawyer, or their neighbor’s nephew the general contractor than a stranger. The same goes for medical and health issues. It seems easier and more convenient to ask a familiar EMT than to research providers, deal with insurance and co-pays, and wait for appointments. Friends and family may feel more comfortable discussing health concerns with you, because of your relationship. Questions typically fall under the following categories:
- Symptoms of a particular illness, ailment, or disease
- Treatment options for a particular illness or disease
- Your opinion of suggested or prescribed tests/treatments
- Preventative measures against certain illnesses
- Expedite appointments, intervene with conflicts with medical providers, or secure an appointment to see a particular doctor
Handle Medical Questions from Friends and Family with Tact
Always being on alert for signs of distress is a habit that paramedics can’t shake, so of course you’re even more invested in the health and well-being of loved ones. However, it’s important to remember, and to firmly, yet gently, remind them that you’re trained in emergency care. You’re not authorized to be a healthcare provider for everyone at any time, and depending upon the scope of the conversation, you may want to reference Ohio Medical Directions Laws, or the laws applicable to your region. Mention that there is immunity for off-duty emergency situations, yet difficult criteria to allow for performance of services in non-emergency situations.
Liability concerns aside, it’s also important that you don’t add stress to an already emotionally demanding profession. Although friends and family are turning to you for medical answers or treatment, there’s still the risk of them not properly following your advice. They may become overly reliant on you, or conversely, blame you when something doesn’t go the way they thought. Additionally, given the close relationship, you may not see them in the same way that you do with emergency patients, and worry that your answers weren’t entirely accurate or comprehensive.
Keep Conversations Rooted in Common Knowledge
While you do have to set boundaries with how you relay medical knowledge, you don’t have to completely avoid or ignore the questions. It’s all right to discuss concerns that can easily be researched and understood by lay persons, such as recognizing frostbite and hypothermia, preventing dehydration, or knowing the signs of a heart attack. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen to; gauge exactly what their reasons are for seeking answers, and then decide if it’s a topic that your paramedic background actually has no bearing on.
Redirect Serious Questions to Appropriate Resources
For questions that are serious and require in-depth medical knowledge and practice, recommend that they seek the appropriate provider or specialist. You can certainly mention names, clinics, or hospitals that you’re aware of, with the caveat that these are points of reference, not your order to go there. If they’re inclined to look up symptoms online at WebMD or Mayo Clinic, also recommend that websites ending in .org and .gov are the best sources for reliable information.
As paramedics and EMTs, you’re seemingly always on the job, even when the ambulances are parked, and the uniforms are off. It’s par for the course to answer medical questions from friends and family, as long as the limitations are understood and respected.
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