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Physicians uneasy when patient is hospital philanthropist

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 24, 2012

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Some people who form close bonds to the medical center where they or family members received care express their gratitude through large charity contributions. This kind of philanthropy, while often essential to hospital bottom lines, can pose tricky problems in the doctor-patient relationship, said a study published online Dec. 6 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (link).

Structured interviews with 20 physicians at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who had several patients who were large donors to the medical center revealed that 90% said the gift changes the nature of the patient-physician relationship. “I feel very uncomfortable because I’m a physician, and I’m not a solicitor or something. … I’m becoming aware of their history, that they donated, or other financial means. I feel actually it is not ethical of me to try to solicit them,” one physician said.

Sixty percent of doctors worried that donors might get preferential services or that physicians might feel pressure to give such care. A quarter of physicians worried about accepting money on behalf of the hospital from patients, due to vulnerability caused by illness.

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