Around 10% of doctors and consultants in the UK (1 in 10) say they have been offered a Valentine’s Day card or gift from a patient during their career, according to a survey by a leading medical protection organisation.
Medical Protection said some cards and gifts from patient to doctor can be straightforward expressions of gratitude, but on Valentine’s Day things can become more complicated and can present some ethical dilemmas.
Dr Helen Hartley, Medicolegal Adviser at Medical Protection, said:
“Doctors can often be offered cards and small gifts from patients as tokens of gratitude for the care they have received. On a regular day of the year they will consider such things as the appropriateness of the card and gift, the value of the gift and whether accepting it could impact on the doctor patient relationship. For example, whether the patient may expect preferential treatment in the future. Doctors may also discuss with colleagues to ensure there is transparency, and check current guidelines.
“But a gift or card on Valentine’s Day - while it may still be innocent - makes things more complicated and potentially embarrassing.
“We all know a Valentine’s Day card or gift, while sometimes anonymous, is usually an expression of someone’s affection, or romantic - even passionate - feelings. This is obviously not an appropriate basis for a doctor patient relationship, and doctors who find they are the object of a patient’s affection should take care to avoid any action that could be seen to encourage the patient.
“Where appropriate doctors should politely decline a Valentine’s Day card or gift, adopt a more formal manner and remind patients of their duty as their doctor and the professional boundaries that must be protected in order for the patient to receive quality, impartial care. The conversation can be documented and discussed with a colleague, including whether care should be transferred to another doctor if there are further advances.
“It is also important to consider that these types of advances from a patient could be a symptom of loneliness and poor relationships, or the patient may suffer from mental health problems and be in need of psychiatric support.
“The General Medical Council provides advice on maintaining or re-establishing professional boundaries with patients, and on managing offers of high value gifts and policies which can avoid causing offence. Medical Protection also provides members with expert advice.”
*336 GPs and consultants in the UK responded to a survey by Medical Protection from 9-12 February 2017. 9.23% said they had received a Valentine’s Day card or gift during their careers.
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