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Accepting gifts from patients ok?

December 3, 2013

Question:

Jennifer,

Its that time of year again when I start getting gifts from patients.  May I accept?

Thanks,
Dr. R

Answer:

Yes, but...  You are not prohibited under any law or rule from accepting gifts but the AMA has issued opinions governing the ethics of gift acceptance and offering parameters to determine whether a gift is appropriate:

Opinion 10.017 - Gift from Patients

Gifts that patients offer to physicians are often an expression of appreciation and gratitude or a reflection of cultural tradition, and can enhance the patient-physician relationship.

Some gifts signal psychological needs that require the physician’s attention. Some patients may attempt to influence care or to secure preferential treatment through the offering of gifts or cash. Acceptance of such gifts is likely to damage the integrity of the patient-physician relationship. Physicians should make clear that gifts given to secure preferential treatment compromise their obligation to provide services in a fair manner.

There are no definitive rules to determine when a physician should or should not accept a gift. No fixed value determines the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a gift from a patient; however, the gift’s value relative to the patient’s or the physician’s means should not be disproportionately or inappropriately large. One criterion is whether the physician would be comfortable if acceptance of the gift were known to colleagues or the public.

Physicians should be cautious if patients discuss gifts in the context of a will. Such discussions must not influence the patient’s medical care.

If, after a patient’s death, a physician should learn that he or she has been bequeathed a gift, the physician should consider declining the gift if the physician believes that its acceptance would present a significant hardship (financial or emotional) to the family.

The interaction of these various factors is complex and requires the physician to consider them sensitively. (I, II)

Issued December 2003 based on the report
"Gifts from Patients," adopted June 2003.


Rule of thumb - If you aren't sure it is appropriate to accept a certain gift from a particular patient, you may have your answer and you should probably decline.
 

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