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    When can I accept a patient's gift?

    Legal eagle

    David J. Goldberg, M.D., J.D.Dr. Mole treats many skin cancer patients. He has had one very difficult melanoma patient whom he has treated for years. This wealthy patient, forever grateful, gave Dr. Mole a new Mercedes in appreciation. Dr. Mole, so excited about the gift told all his fellow dermatologists. One of them filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee of his state dermatology society. Did Dr. Mole do something wrong?

    Fiduciary violations

    Whenever a dermatologist accepts a gift from a patient it becomes a matter of ethics. Fiduciary violations can result in discipline for misconduct. Furthermore, patients and estates of deceased patients can sue for the return of what was gifted. So, when accepting a patient’s gift, it’s important to keep basic legal issues in mind.

    More Legal Eagle: I have been sued under the ADA

    As a fundamental matter, the doctor-patient relationship imposes unique professional boundaries, which patient gifting blurs. The doctor-patient relationship is a fiduciary relationship that mandates the dermatologist act only for the good of the patient. Gifting touches on the question of whether the patient and/or doctor are acting for the doctor’s personal benefit.

    Medical care, and in dermatology the diagnosis of melanoma, often leads to an emotional experience. In that context, gratitude is a predictable emotion. Many patients seek a way to express that emotion tangibly. Doctors, who increasingly feel that their work is viewed as thankless, are grateful when that outreach is made. So, can Dr. Mole accept gifts from patients?

    NEXT: AMA's Guidance

    David J. Goldberg, M.D., J.D.
    Dr. Goldberg is Director of Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of New York and New Jersey, Director of Mohs Surgery and laser research, ...


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