Should You Give Your Doctor a Gift?

December 23, 2009

I used to get lots of gifts from patients during the holidays. Not so much anymore.

I’m more patient-centered than ever. And the older I get the more relaxed I get with my patients. I’d like to think that I’m more likeable. But still fewer gifts than ten or fifteen years ago.

So what gives?

Times have changed. Doctors nowadays are dispensable. If a patient doesn’t like what they’ve got they can move on. But this is probably a good thing. It’s what patients should do.  In the old days there was less of that. We needed a tight relationship with our providers. It was essential. Gifting may have been seen as a means of getting what one needs. Not so much now.

But in this evolving world of patient empowerment is there role for the cultivation of a stronger relationship from the patient’s end?

When it comes to my relationships I care less about cookies and gourmet pears. Intent resonates more with me these days. Much like a handwritten note, which seems to be so much more powerful than twenty years ago.

The world of patient care is changing quickly and not for the better. Caring for the chronically ill is stressful, backbreaking work.  If you’ve got a relationship that works think about pointing out the value in what you’ve got. Gourmet pears aside, remember that a sincere, heartfelt thank-you represents one of the best gifts you can give your doctor.


Qaphsiel December 23, 2009 at 8:00 am

It's not just doctors. People in all fields are increasingly referred to as 'resources' or 'head counts' and other dehumanizing terms.

It makes it easy for senior managers to shuffle, fire (and oh the euphemisms we have for that!), pidgeon-hole and otherwise blunt any feelings they might otherwise feel for if they used terms that might make them think of these resources as humans and not numbers.

DrV December 23, 2009 at 8:13 am

Yes. The evolution (or devolution) of human interaction isn't limited to doctors and patients. It's likely part of a larger pattern. I'm not sure if that's encouraging.

Rach December 24, 2009 at 2:56 pm

I've posted briefly on this before on my own blog.
While cookies and gourmet pears will eventually get eaten (or tossed) notes can be held onto forever.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. December 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Of course they should. These are not payoffs, but expressions of gratitude by grateful patients. Let's not dehumanize the doctor-patient relationship any further. It's already under threat,and whatever we can do do revitalize it, we should do with enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Han December 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Yes, when I receive a gift and note, it's the note that goes up right away on my wall.

drcharles December 31, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Wonderful post. I save the handwritten notes.

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