"DoYou Mind If I Come In Too?"

Medical Author" William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

I am an arthritis specialist, but what I am writing about here applies to all specialties of medicine.

It is not infrequent that a family member of a patient that I am seeing in consultation will ask me; "Doctor, do you mind if I come in too?"

First, let me make one thing perfectly clear - there are only very rare exceptions when it would be inappropriate for a family member to be in the room with the patient. Second, it is perfectly acceptable to ask this question if you are a family member that has an interest in the patient's medical situation. Third, if the patient or the doctor feel that there are particular reasons to exclude you from the consultation room, they will tell you.

So, go ahead and ask. Here's why. The sincere concern and understanding of a family member is extremely important to the patient and the doctor. This is particularly true for many of the chronic arthritis-related conditions.

Because many of these conditions can be complex medically, may require serious medicines that can have side effects and need monitoring testing, and because the conditions can affect the day-to-day functioning of the patient in the family environment, doctors will generally welcome the presence of the family member. By being present when the condition is explained, the required tests are described, and the treatment options and side effects are reviewed, the family member can assist the patient in understanding the game plan while they are permitted their own optimal understanding of the situation that will be confronting the family.

Furthermore, the presence of the family member during the doctor's visit can serve to relieve the patient's burden of describing the situation to the family at a later time. Additionally, nothing is "lost in the translation."

Finally, even if you, as the family member, are excluded at that particular visit, you still will have made a positive impact. If you respect the feelings of those involved, you will have expressed your concern to two people who care - the patient and the doctor.

So, to family members I say: "Ask your patient-family member and doctor for their consent to attend their doctor's appointment." It may be the best thing you could do for the one that is ill.

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