Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Patient, Myself


I saw this abstract and wanted to post it. Entitled Psychiatrist Attitudes toward Self-Treatment of Their Own Depression, it's a survey conducted of Michigan psychiatrists regarding their opinions toward self-prescribing. A survey of more than 500 Michigan psychiatrists showed that more than 40% would medicate themselves for mild to moderate depression and that 15% had actually done so in the past. Seven percent of psychiatrists said they would treat themselves for severe depression or depression involving suicidal ideation.

The AMA code of medical ethics states: "Physicians generally should not treat themselves or members of their immediate families...It would not always be inappropriate to undertake self-treatment or treatment of immediate family members. In emergency settings or isolated settings where there is no other qualified physician available, physicians should not hesitate to treat themselves or family members until another physician becomes available. In addition, while physicians should not serve as a primary or regular care provider for immediate family members, there are situations in which routine care is acceptable for short-term, minor problems."

So why or when would a doctor consider treating himself? I don't know Michigan well, but I'd guess they probably have the same shortage of psychiatrists that other Midwestern states have. If you're a depressed psychiatrist you may be the only game in town. Maybe he'd be concerned about privacy and information-sharing among colleagues.

Or maybe the AMA would consider mild clinical depression to be a "short-term, minor problem" for which the self-treatment exception would apply. There are probably hundreds of physicians who at one time or another have written antibiotic prescriptions for themselves or for family members. I wonder if this also applies to prescribing for family pets? Should a psychiatrist prescribe Prozac for his obsessional cat? Thorazine for the nervous dog? A recent survey of neurologists showed that more than 90% agree that it would be appropriate to self-prescribe for acute minor illnesses. Another survey of young Norwegian physicians found that 90% had self-prescribed in the past year.

Don't ask me what Michigan surgeons would do...