There has always been a stigma around the idea of physicians receiving gifts from their patients. The gesture may influence unethical behavior or create a bias. Yet, there are no set of rules set in stone on this topic, making it an extremely gray area. In fact, the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics is just a detailed series of opinions and suggestions of what to do in various situations. So, we’re breaking down what little information is out there for you to avoid any future ethical conundrums.
Follow Your Gut
It may seem that the easiest way to avoid any issues is to not accept any gifts, but that is not always the wisest choice. Rejecting a gift may create an imbalance in the physician-patient relationship. Alternatively, accepting gifts may very well strengthen and encourage the physician-patient relationship, and there are physicians who find this to be true. It is no wonder why it’s a gray area, it’s all circumstantial, and the best source in determining whether or not to accept a gift is your gut.
Accept or Reject?
Selective or conditional acceptance is the practice of considering the circumstances, timing, and type of gift before determining whether a gift is ethical enough to accept. A general rule of thumb, if the idea of accepting it or if the public or colleagues had knowledge of such a gift makes you feel uncomfortable, politely decline. Especially if the gift is inappropriate or extravagant.
It is not out of the ordinary for physicians to receive gifts, such as baked goods, out of appreciation. Which, by the way, is acceptable according to society and the Code of Ethics. But, whatever the situation may be, the absolute best way to protect yourself is to record all gifts offered to you, no matter whether you accepted or refused.
Here are a few steps a physician should take when presented with a gift from a patient, according to the American Medical Association’s Medical Code of Ethics:
- Decline gifts that are extravagant, large, and/or would impose an emotional or financial burden on the patient
- Resist a gift to influence the patient’s medical care and your obligation to treat all patients fairly
- Avoid all suspicions of ethics, and ask the patient to make a charitable contribution instead