Doctors, drug companies, and gifts

JAMA. 1989 Dec 22-29;262(24):3448-51.


Doctors often accept gifts from drug companies. We analyze this practice and conclude that accepting a gift has complex practical and ethical repercussions. Gifts cost patients money, and they may change society's perception of the profession as serving the best interest of patients. Also, accepting a gift establishes a relationship between the physician and the drug company that obliges a response from the physician. Accepting gifts and the resulting relationship have ethical implications as well. First, the use of patients' money to pay for gifts can be unjust. Second, the fiduciary relationship between physician and patient may be threatened if prescribing practices are affected (as intended by the drug company). Third, physicians' characters may be altered by a practice that fosters self-interest at patients' expense. We discuss the need for guidelines for the profession to help physicians promote their patients' well-being.

KIE: The authors analyze the complex practical and ethical issues surrounding the phenomenon of gift giving by drug companies to physicians. They consider the ethical implications of the practice, pointing out that whenever a doctor accepts a gift from a pharmaceutical firm or its representative, an implicit relationship between the recipient and the giver is established. Inherent in this relationship is an obligation to respond to the gift; this obligation may conflict with the physician's obligations toward patients, and even may affect the physician's character. Chren, et al. propose that American medical organizations adopt statements about the issues raised by drug company gifts, and conclude with a discussion of five items these statements might cover.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Industry / economics*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Gift Giving*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Moral Obligations
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Role*
  • United States