The sale of goods in physicians’ offices can afford patients greater accessibility to healthcare products while simultaneously enhancing quality of care. However, these transactions may pose ethical dilemmas for physicians along with the potential to negatively affect the physician-patient relationship. Physicians should be aware of these potential pitfalls. Specifically, both the sale of health-related and non-health-related goods by physicians may present a financial conflict of interest Such sales may also carry a risk of patient exploitation by placing undue pressure on patients. Local statutes, regulations, and board of medicine rules may further affect the practice.
The American Medical Association, (AMA) has cautioned that, in general, physicians should not sell non-health-related products from their offices. However, the AMA has expressed approval that physicians may sell low-cost non-health-related goods from their offices for the benefit of community organizations, provided that: (1) the goods are low-cost, (2) the physician takes no share in profit from their sale, (3) such sales are not a regular part of the physician’s business, (4) sales are conducted in a dignified manner, and (5) sales are conducted in such a way as to assure that patients are not pressured into making purchases. The most common examples are seasonable fundraisers for community organizations such as the local chapter of the Girl Scouts.
Although the details may vary from state to state, physicians may generally sell health-related goods from their offices. In response to the risk of patient exploitation, the physician may be required to limit sales to products that serve the immediate and pressing needs of their patients. In other words, physicians should only sell health-related products that align with their practice area. For example, it may be appropriate for a patient treated for a broken leg to purchase crutches from that same physician’s office where the patient was treated. Physicians who choose to sell health-related products from their offices should not sell any health-related products whose claim of benefit lacks scientific validity.