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Physician, Patient, Parent: Where Exactly Is the Line?


  • Douglas J. Opel

  • Douglas J. Opel, “Physician, Patient, Parent: Where Exactly Is the Line?”


I have Crohn's disease. This essay is about how my experiences with this disease have shaped my perceptions of boundaries in medicine, particularly around the issue of self-disclosure. I became a pediatrician first, then a parent, and now a patient, and with each new role, I have become increasingly confused on where boundaries regarding self-disclosures in medicine lie. I'd like to make the case for more of a reframing and a blurring of personal and professional boundaries regarding physicians’ disclosures about their own health. Although historically thought of as a way to strengthen the physician-patient relationship and therefore encouraged, physician disclosure has recently become more controversial, and boundary discussions that include it seem to increasingly begin from the edict, “Don't do it.” But why not capitalize on the shared experience of physicians and patients? It offers an opportunity to deepen our therapeutic relationship with our patients, to build trust, to help understanding, and maybe even to improve patient outcomes.