Hitting a Nerve

Keeping the doctor-patient relationship at the office


I recently picked up my daughter from summer camp, and on the 5-hour drive home she kept texting people back and forth. I asked her if they were other campers or counselors she’d befriended.

Doctor using social media cyano66/Thinkstock

She said yes, they were other campers she’d met, but was horrified that I thought some might be counselors. Counselors, understandably, aren’t allowed to have any contact with kids outside of camp. Not by text, Instagram, Facebook, or any other modern social contrivances.

That probably should have occurred to me before I even asked. It makes sense.

I keep a similar policy with patients.

Nothing against them: The majority are decent people, and there are a few I could easily see being social friends with – meeting for dinner, going to a basketball game ... but I won’t.

Like the kids and counselors at camp, I need to keep a distance between myself and patients. I don’t have any social media accounts, anyway, but I keep the relationship confined to my office.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Keeping an emotional distance with patients makes it easier to do this job. While we may genuinely care about them and are trying to help, it’s important to be objective. Seeing them through the lens of friendship might affect the decision-making process.

The divider of professionalism is there for a good reason, across many fields. It allows us to try and think clearly, to give good and bad news, and make diagnostic and treatment decisions as rationally as possible, based on scientific evidence and each individual’s circumstances.

It’s what makes good medicine possible. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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