Receiving gifts and presents from patients has the potential of being an issue if they affect the doctor–patient relationship, or if they create a perception that the doctor-patient relationship was compromised or exploited. So, can doctors accept gifts from patients?
There are many accounts where patients feel like they should get special treatment because of their gift giving. In other cases, family members might be concerned when they think their relative/ patient has been given inappropriate treatment or exploited.
Don’t forget that bequests or gifts from former patients, or their family members can also raise similar questions about whether the relationship was exploited.
Use your judgment on accepting gifts from patients when there is no policy
The best is to have your hospital or practice have a policy on patient gifts — who you need to tell, what you can accept, and how to record gifts. Some policies do allow gifts of a nominal amount.
If there is no policy, you need to use your judgment. While the monetary value of a gift is one barometer, unfortunately a clear line does not always exist, which indicates when a gift is inappropriate. It often depends on the context.
The best guide is the Medical Board of Australia’s Good Medical Practice. It says that doctors need to be transparent and honest in financial arrangements with patients and never encourage patients to “give, lend or bequeath money or gifts that will benefit you directly or indirectly”.
Do you think you have encouraged gift-giving from patients?
Have you ever made a suggestion of a gift or exercised undue influence or exploited a power imbalance between yourself and the patient? Receiving a gift in these ways can be quite harmful to a vulnerable patient. Blurring boundaries is to be avoided as much as possible.
Plus, the NSW Professional Standards Committees say that simply to satisfy yourself the gift was not encouraged, is not enough. Even if a gift is unexpected you need to be confident you haven’t offered indirect encouragement.
Also be aware of by accepting small but frequent gifts, a pattern of gift-giving can be surmised. Bottom line – it’s important to talk to your patient and explain that gifts are not necessary.
Accepting gifts from patients in Australia
Who knows about the gift?
Another issue is transparency. A red flag arises when there is an indication that the gift was secret.
One way to deal with this is to ask yourself whether you are comfortable for the patient’s family members, colleagues, the regulator to know you received this gift.
Also talking to fellow doctors to get another perspective and check your judgment is a smart move.
Will a refusal offend your patient?
Declining a generous gift has the potential of distressing or insulting a patient and their family members. A great place to start is to talk to the patient or family. They need to understand that the gift is unnecessary and explain why it may raise professional concerns.
Another approach is to accept it as a donation to a mutually agreed upon charity or healthcare service.
Receive Support & Assistance with Tego’s Medical Practitioner Insurance
A gift from a patient who has appreciated your care can feel really great. So many times, small gifts are just a thoughtful gesture. But sometimes, a gift from a patient can raise professional and ethical issues. You don’t want a gift to create a perception the relationship was exploited, or care was compromised. If you have concerns, make sure you reach out to your medical indemnity insurer for free medico-legal advice. You can also read our blog about discontinuing clinical patient relationships.
As Australian medical indemnity insurance providers, we understand the intricacies of patient- doctor relationships. We are experts in medical indemnity insurance, medical malpractice insurance, doctors indemnity insurance, gp medical indemnity insurance, medical practice insurance, and more. If you are a health practitioner with Tego, we offer 24/7 medico-legal advice and support in regards to what you need to know about the risks invoiced with receiving a gift from a patient.
This publication is general in nature and is not comprehensive or constitutes legal or medical advice. You should seek legal, medical or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Tego Insurance Pty Ltd is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information.
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