AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. December 2000, Volume 2, Number 12.

Cases in Law and Ethics

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Ethics of Professional Courtesy

An ethical case explores whether it is appropriate for a physician to extend professional courtesy when treating family members of colleagues.

Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD

December Case Scenario

Dr. Friendly has been practicing pediatrics in a small city for twenty years. He has several colleagues whom he considers good friends. Recently, Dr. Friendly treated the daughter of one of his colleagues. Instead of billing for the procedure, Dr. Friendly waived his normal fee. The patient's mother, Dr. Newcomb, practices internal medicine and feels uneasy about not paying for the procedure through her insurance company. She does not want to hurt Dr. Friendly's feelings, but she thinks that professional courtesy is not required and is ethically questionable. Dr. Friendly sees it differently; he believes that the origins of professional courtesy go back as far as the Hippocratic Oath. In his opinion, professional courtesy helps in a small way to repay the debt he's incurred in learning from teachers and colleagues in medicine. Moreover, he believes that professional courtesy is something that is frequently extended in other fields; why should physicians be excluded?

What do you think?

See what the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says about this topic in:

Opinion 6.12 Forgiveness or waiver of insurance co-payments. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 2008-2009 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2008:185-186.

Opinion 6.13 Professional courtesy. American Medical Association. Code of Medical Ethics 2008-2009 Edition. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2008:186.

Related Articles

  • Levy MA, Arnold RM, Fine MJ, Kapoor WN.  Professional courtesy--current practices and attitudes. N Engl J Med 1993 Nov 25;329(22):1627-31.
  • Steinbrook R. Rethinking professional courtesy. N Engl J Med 1993 Nov 25;329(22):1652-3.
The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.