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Retainer Practices

Physicians must uphold their primary professional obligation of fidelity and their responsibility to treat all patients with courtesy, respect and dignity.
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Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 11.2.5

Physicians are free to enter into contracts to provide special non-medical services and amenities with individual patients who are willing and able to pay additional costs out of pocket for such services. While such retainer contracts are one among many diverse models for delivering and paying for health care, they can also raise ethical concerns about access, quality, and continuity of care.

Regardless of the model within which they practice, physicians must uphold their primary professional obligation of fidelity and their responsibility to treat all patients with courtesy and respect for patients’ rights and dignity, and ensure that all patients in the physician’s practice receive the same quality of medical care, regardless of contractual arrangements for special, non-medical services and amenities.

Physicians who enter into retainer contracts with patients must:

(a) Present the terms of the retainer arrangement clearly to patients, including implications for the patient’s current health care insurance, if known, and take care not to imply that more or better medical services will be provided under a retainer contract.

(b) Ensure that patient decisions to accept retainer contracts are voluntary and that patients are free to opt-out of entering into a retainer agreement.

(c) Facilitate transfer of care for any patient who chooses not to participate in a retainer practice. If it is not feasible to transfer a patient’s care to another local physician, the physician should continue to provide care under the terms of the patient’s existing health care insurance until other appropriate arrangements for ongoing care can be made.

(d) Ensure that treatment recommendations for all patients are based on scientific evidence, relevant professional guidelines, sound professional judgment, and prudent stewardship.

(e) Uphold standards of honesty and transparency in billing and clearly distinguish charges for special services or amenities provided under a retainer contract from medical services reimbursable by the patient’s health care insurance or third-party payer.

(f) Uphold professional obligations to promote access to health care and to provide care to those in need regardless of ability to pay, in keeping with ethics guidance.

AMA Principles of Medical Ethics: I, II, VI, VIII, IX

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