It’s happening more frequently: Requests for medical advice by email. The more I do, the more people I meet. The network grows and friends of friends learn about what I do.
So junior has a little pain and shows at the local ER where the requisite CT shows a little thickening of the ileum. Someone suggests that the family drop me a line. Here’s the problem: There’s more to this than digital correspondence will allow.
While the statistical reality of this child’s situation is that this finding represents a little edema from a virus, the differential is precarious: crohn’s disease, lymphoma, tuberculous ileitis, eosinophilic enteropathy.
A case of this type requires the thorough exploration of a child’s story and a compulsive exam that takes into consideration the problems in the differential. Worrisome considerations need to be framed and discussed in the context of the child’s total presentation and real likelihood of occurrence. The sensitive dialog surrounding our diagnostic approach to this child requires a relationship. And the various approaches require an element of negotiation with the family. All of this takes time, emotional intelligence and good clinical judgment.
Children are complicated creatures. Parents are more complicated. Loose, off-the-cuff advice based on shotty information shortchanges both parties.
Of course the easiest response to these regular queries is that my employer, malpractice carrier, and the Texas State Board preclude offering medical advice without an established relationship or the maintenance of a medical record available for peer review. Everybody understands legalese. Few, however, understand the complexity of a properly executed medical encounter.