One question I was asked recently was whether or not you can treat your friends and family.
Here's a deep dive into that question and some rules you should keep in mind if you're ever treating your friends and family members.
*Disclosure: This article on can nurses treat family members may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer.
Can Nurses Treat Family Members and Friends?
No law bars you from treating a friend or family member. The issue is that because they're your friend or family, you might become too emotionally involved and not make the best decision based on evidence-based practice.
Is it Legal to Treat Friends and Family?
As far as I can see and based on my experiences working with nurses (or healthcare workers) who have treated friends and family, there are no laws that keep you from doing this.
Will Facilities Allow You to Treat Family and Friends?
Some facilities have rules that deal with how staff members interact with patients who are close friends and family members. So make sure you know what your employer's policy (if any) is on treating patients you're related to.
Reasons Why You Shouldn't Treat Friends and Family
If there isn't a law keeping you from doing it and your facility allows it does that mean you should? Nope! I don't think so, and here are some of the reasons why you shouldn't.
1. Personal Influence Will Influence Your Nursing Judgement
I believe as a healthcare worker, it's important to be as impartial as possible. That is treating every patient and situation as justly and fairly as possible given current evidence-based practice and facility policy and protocol.
I think that's hard to do when you're taking care of patients, and one of them happens to be your brother or best friend.
For example, can you see yourself favoring showing your family member a disproportionate amount of time while neglecting your other patients?
I'm not saying you would do it on purpose. I'm also not saying you're a bad person or a bad nurse if you do that. What I am saying is that you're human, and you'll be tempted to do just that.
Here's another example. Suppose you're taking care of a relative and see they have an abnormal lab value. Are you still going to think critically, remembering that there are steps and protocols you have to follow and that other and possibly less severe illnesses have to be ruled out first? Or will you jump to conclusions and assume the worst?
2. Patients May Feel Uncomfortable Sharing Sensitive Information
When you’re dealing with patients, you're going to be asking a lot of personal questions. Personal questions they might be okay telling a medical provider who's a neutral 3rd party but might not be okay with if it's someone they know personally.
Because of that, it's possible to run into a situation where the family member withholds information (or tells half-truths), which could be problematic if you're trying to give the best possible care.
3. You Might Start Having Weird Interactions
The last point I'm going to mention on why you shouldn't take care of patients you're close to is that it might cause you to have weird interactions with them outside the hospital.
Remember what I mentioned above about how they might not be willing to say any sensitive information. Well, what if they do?
What if you find out something very personal about them that nobody else knows? What if you find out they've had a procedure or they've been hospitalized for something that they don't want anybody else to know about?
Can you see how that might start being awkward between you and them?
4. You Might Be Pressured to Share Private Information
I said the one above was the last point, and well…I was just kidding. This is actually the last point.
People can be nosey, and some people just don't know when to mind their own business. What's worse is when they try to drag you along with their gossip.
Here's the scenario you take care of your niece in the hospital, and other members of the family find out. Then they start asking you a bunch of questions trying to find out as much information as possible.
Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you can't share that information, but do you know how annoying it is. What if on top of that, you find out some information you feel like they should know (and you want them to know), but because of patient privacy laws, once again, you can't tell them.
What to Do If You Get Assigned a Family Member or Friend?
If you get assigned a family member, reach out to your charge nurse or your nurse manager and explain the situation to them. If possible, ask if you can switch patient assignments with another nurse.
If you do have to treat a family member or a close friend, you should keep these points in mind:
- Try to keep in mind of your emotions and any personal bias you might have when you're providing any nursing care.
- Avoid providing any sensitive or intimate care (if possible).
- Keep in mind that the family member may be reluctant to state their preference or request another practitioner out of fear of offending you.