P. Galewitz, “Hospitals Are Asking Their Own Patients to Donate Money”, Jan. 28, 2019. [Online] The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/business/hospitals-asking-patients-donate-money.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FEthics [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
About the article author
Phil Galewitz is a Senior Correspondent with Kaiser Health News and has been covering issues in the healthcare industry for over two decades. Prior to his work with Kaiser, he worked with the Associated Press and The Patriot-News on topics regarding the national health industry.
When a patient visits a hospital, they can reasonably expect an environment conducive to healing and recovery and to be treated to their physician’s best ability. An unexpected portion of their visit might entail their physician soliciting a donation to the hospital and perhaps even a wealth screening. At non-profit hospitals, both of these actions have become commonplace. Hospitals that have adopted “grateful patient” programs, which aim to elicit donations from both current and recent patients, have the potential to raise a significant portion of revenue from these endeavors. For example, the Sharp HeathCare hospital system in San Diego made over 60% of its donation revenue from “grateful patient” programs. Yet, while such programs may be excellent for a hospital’s bottom lines, they put physicians in the awkward position of having to simultaneously provide care and solicit money, actions with seemingly conflicting interests. Additional issues arise in the wealth screening process of “grateful patient” programs. Specifically, patients must provide consent to enter the process; while hospitals are generally successful in that regard, the consent is rarely informed, considering the boatloads of paperwork entailed in a hospital stay. Also, by specifically screening for wealth, the hospital could unwittingly treat wealthier patients better.
Considered holistically, “grateful patient” programs are beneficial to the various players involved. The hospitals involved can earn significantly more revenue and in turn provide better services to their patients. While overall beneficial, careful thought must be put into the system’s implementation. For example, hospitals should be more proactive in obtaining informed consent regarding fundraising participation. Yet, the most contentious portion of the “grateful patient” programs will inevitably be the participation of the physician in the fundraising process. Should physicians be allowed to participate in these programs? If doctors were prohibited from soliciting donations and were instead replaced by dedicated fundraisers, does that not remove one of the patient’s closest connections with the hospital? And if doctors are allowed to remain in the fundraising process, how can biases in care be prevented between donating and non-donating patients?