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Physician Rights and Responsibilities

Gifts from Industry

Many gifts to physicians by companies in the pharmaceutical, device and medical equipment industries serve an important and socially beneficial function. For example, companies have long provided funds for educational seminars and conferences. However, there has been growing concern about certain gifts from industry to physicians. Some gifts that reflect customary practices of industry may not be consistent with principles of medical ethics. To avoid the acceptance of inappropriate gifts, physicians should observe the following guidelines:

  1. Any gifts accepted by physicians individually should primarily entail a benefit to patients and should not be of substantive value. Accordingly, textbooks, modest meals and other gifts are appropriate if they serve a genuine educational function. Cash payments should not be accepted.
  2. Individual gifts of minimal value are permissible as long as the gifts are related to the physician's work (e.g., pens and notepads).
  3. Subsidies to underwrite the costs of continuing medical education conferences or professional meetings can contribute to the improvement of patient care and therefore are permissible. Since the giving of a subsidy directly to a physician by a company's sales representative may create a relationship which could influence the use of the company's products, any subsidy should be accepted by the conference's sponsor who in turn can use the money to reduce the conference's registration fee. Payments to defray the costs of the conference should not be accepted directly from the company by the physicians attending the conference.
  4. Subsidies from industry should not be accepted to pay for the costs of travel, lodging or other personal expenses of physicians attending conferences or meetings, nor should subsidies be accepted to compensate for the physicians' time. Subsidies for hospitality should not be accepted outside of modest meals or social events held as a part of the conference or meeting. It is appropriate for faculty at conferences or meetings to accept reasonable honoraria and to accept reimbursement for reasonable travel, lodging and meal expenses. It is also appropriate for consultants who provide genuine services to receive reasonable compensation and to accept reimbursement for reasonable travel, lodging and meal expenses. Token consulting or advisory arrangements cannot be used to justify compensating physicians for their time or their travel, lodging and other out-of-pocket expenses.
  5. Scholarships or other special funds to permit medical students, residents and fellows to attend carefully selected educational conferences may be permissible as long as the selection of students, residents or fellows who will receive the funds is made by the academic or training institution.
  6. No gifts should be accepted if there are strings attached. For example, physicians should not accept gifts if they are given in relation to the physicians' prescribing practices. In addition, when companies underwrite medical conferences or lectures other than their own, responsibility for and control over the selection of content, faculty, educational methods and materials should belong to the organizers of the conferences or lectures. (JC Rpt B, A-93) (Reaffirmed A-17)

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Abbreviations for House of Delegates report origination:

EC – Executive Committee; BT – Board of Trustees; CPA – Council on Professional Affairs; JC – Judicial Council; CHS – Community and Health Services

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