Jeff Bezos’ charitable drive and the Code of Medical Ethics

Kevin B. O'Reilly , News Editor

When billionaire Jeff Bezos—the founder of Inc.—recently posted to Twitter seeking suggestions on how to make the best charitable use of his vast holdings, he was met with a wealth of responses almost as impressive as his estimated $80 billion fortune. Nearly 50,000 responses have poured in so far.

For physicians seeking to do good through charity, the AMA Code of Medical Ethics has guidance for them to keep in mind when soliciting contributions from their patients.

In Opinion 2.3.5, “Soliciting Charitable Contributions from Patients,” the Code explains:

Charitable contributions play an important role in supporting and improving a community’s health, and physicians are encouraged to participate in fundraising and other solicitation activities.

To sustain the trust that is the foundation of the patient-physician relationship and to reassure patients that their welfare is the physician's primary priority, physicians who participate in fundraising should:

(a) Assure patients that they need not contribute in order to continue receiving quality care.

(b) Refrain from directly soliciting contributions from their own patients, especially during clinical encounters.

(c) Solicit contributions by making information available, for example, in their office reception areas or by speaking at fundraising events.

(d) Protect patient privacy and confidentiality by not acknowledging that a patient is under the physician’s care when approached by fundraising personnel without the prior consent of the patient.

(e) Obtain permission from the patient before releasing information for purposes of fundraising when the nature of the physician’s practice could make it possible to identify the medical services provided or the patient's diagnosis.

(f) Refer patients or families who wish to make charitable contributions to appropriate information or fundraising personnel.

(g) Be sensitive to the likelihood that they may be perceived to be acting in their professional role when participating in fundraising activities as a member of the general community.

AMA Principles of Medical Ethics: IV,VII,VIII

Chapter 2 of the Code, also features opinions on informed consent, using placebo in clinical practice, genetic testing of children and professionalism on social media.

The Code of Medical Ethics is updated periodically to address the changing conditions of medicine. The new edition, adopted in June 2016, is the culmination of an eight-year project to comprehensively review, update and reorganize guidance to ensure that the Code remains timely and easy to use for physicians in teaching and in practice.