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Should Physicians Accept Gifts From Patients?

Are gifts for doctors appropriate in the physician-patient relationship? Or should doctors refuse all offerings of gratitude that come their way?

Patients often give gifts to doctors as an appreciative sign of great thanks for  for the care they provide.  Some years I may go unappreciated for my efforts.   Some years I get thanked for a job well done for spending time with the patient and their family.   Some years I have patients that hate me.  Some years I even I have  patients that hate me and love me.  

Christmas-Tree-Ornaments-Gifts-For-Doctors-From-PatientsI can understand getting a card as a thank you for a job well done.  Patients want doctors to know  they appreciate their hard work and sacrifice.  But what about going beyond the card?  What about the gifts for doctors that have some emotional, sentimental or monetary value?  With Christmas coming up quickly, it may be natural for many patients to want to give their doctor a gift.

Is it OK for doctors to accept homemade gifts from patients?  These are gifts for doctors that often carry a strong emotional tone of gratitude.  I was cleaning out my closet the other day when I found these  homemade Christmas ornaments hiding in a shoe box (see pictures).  I had forgotten about these ornaments I  received from a patient of mine many years ago that I followed in outpatient  residency clinic.

She was one of the nicest ladies I had ever met.  She came to me with uncontrolled metabolic syndrome and three years later, on my last day of residency clinic I had every PQRI quality measure you could imagine controlled to the tee.

Christmas-Tree-Ornaments-Gifts-For-Doctors-From-PatientsThese ornaments brought back many found memories of my patient-doctor relationship.  But I felt awful about finding these ornaments last month stashed away in a shoebox.    Mrs Happy hung the ornaments on the tree yesterday.

As far as gifts to doctors go, it was of no monetary value.  But it was probably a moment of great satisfaction for her to give me these beautiful homemade Christmas ornaments.    I think emotionally, she invested her spirit  in making these Christmas ornaments for me.

Should doctors refuse gifts that have any monetary value? There are some wealthy patients out there who have the means to provide large gifts to their doctors, such as trips to Hawaii.  Should doctors accept them?  What is the AMA position on gifts for doctors from patients?

There is no fixed value that determines whether a gift from patients should be accepted or turned down.  According to the AMA code of ethics, the gift should not be accepted if it is meant to encourage preferential treatment or if accepting the gift represents an economic hardship for the patient.  Otherwise, gift away.

What has been your experience with gifts for doctors either as a patient or as a physician.   How about you nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants  out there. What has been your experience as well?

Oh yeah, also.  Have you ever regifted a patient’s gift?

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist Blog*

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3 Responses to “Should Physicians Accept Gifts From Patients?”

  1. Personally, I’m not sure we should look to the AMA for our ethical guidance.(Remember Sunbeam?) Let’s not overkill this. If a patient wants to give us a gift, a token of appreciation, we should say thanks. They’re not buying influence or access, they’re merely expressing gratitude and appreciate for our efforts. When I was in grade school decades ago (when we could watch dinosaurs walking outside), we would bring gifts to our teachers. It was wholesome and innocent. Of course, such a venal practice is probably prohibited today. Let’s loosen up a little.

  2. drval says:

    I agree with you, Michael. Though candies and chocolates are not on my diet plan. 🙂 Smart patients may regift those items as part of their New Years resolutions… 🙂

  3. Stephanie says:

    I want to know if it is bad that every year I buy a gift to my Dr. I appreciate her so much and I feel happy when I give her something especial.But I have a question about post card. I saw one of the post card I gave to her on my file and a picture my fam & I send to her for Christmas.If this bad? to give her post card for birthdays & Holidays?

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