The 5 Golden Rules of Giving Medical Advice to Friends and Family

Ever since I started studying medicine I get several medical questions during every party.


Many people have a bad conscience, questioning me, because they think I don’t like to talk about medical  issues  in my free time.

But the truth is, it never bothered me to listen to their experiences. I can also profit from these conversations, because I get an unfiltered view of a patient and she can tell me what she liked and disliked about her doctor.

But what I`ve learned – mostly by trial and error – is that you have to obey certain rules. Otherwise you can get into big time trouble…


So here are my 5 golden rules about giving medical advice to friends and family.

  1. Show empathy : In most cases my friends and relatives don’t want my advice. They just want me to listen and show empathy. In many cases and conversations that’s all you need to do. In other cases though, Aunt Helen tells her story and expects some kind of “professional reaction”.  In these cases rules 2-5 apply.
  2. Do not become your relative’s (or friend’s) doctor.  When I look at my aunts regime of antihypertensives and see her blood pressure records I instantaneously want to change things around. Don’t. Here is why:
    • You don’t have all of her records and laboratory values. You didn’t even examine her.  There may be a reason, why the doctor underwent an unusual approach to her hypertension.
    • If you do, from now on, there won’t be a point for her to go to the doctor for her hypertension. She is just gonna call you. What’s the point in investing time and money in a doctor’s visit, when she can just call her nephew?
    • Her doctor will feel offended (I would be) and their Doctor-patient-relationship will be damaged.
  3. Never judge the doctor by saying: “That is total nonsense” or “What an outdated therapy regimen.”If you don’t like the doctors way of handling it, I would say “That it is an unusual approach, but he may have additional information that I don’t have.”There is really no point in harming the relationship to her doctor, because it will ruin the fundament of their relationship: Trust. If you actually have the impression that something can’t be right you have to go a little further:
  4. Suggest her to ask him open-ended questions, e.g. why he preferred this medication over that one. (Maybe not because her nephew told her it is nonsense, but maybe her neighbor takes this medication and seems to be fine with it…) In many cases a mystery is resolved and the doctor had good reasons to act the way he did.
  5. Recommend to get a second opinion:  If you still have a terrible feeling about the doctor, and his treatment plan suggest to get a second opinion from another doctor that you recommend. But be aware: from this point on you move into the driver’s seat.  If things don’t work out with the new doc you’re in trouble because from now on you have the responsibility to handle things further!I think in the end this is the best thing we can do for our family:Listen to their experiencesshow empathy  and make sure they have a good physician they trust and take advice from.Question: What’s your number one tip when it comes to giving medical advice to your loved ones? Please leave a comment!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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