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February 14, 1994

Professional Courtesy Then and Now

Arch Intern Med. 1994;154(3):257-261. doi:10.1001/archinte.1994.00420030043005

LITERALLY interpreted, the words professional courtesy would seem to convey something about the tenor of physician-physician interactions. Colloquially, however, it has come to have a specific economic meaning. In extending professional courtesy, a physician caring for a physician-patient or family members of a physician-patient waives all or part of the charges that would normally be incurred in the rendering of such services. Surveys conducted in the United States as recently as 1990 have found that over 90% of physicians offer some form of fee reduction to their colleagues.1-5 Still, many physician-observers believe that professional courtesy is disappearing.6-8

Our interest in this subject was prompted by a physician's letter to the editor in response to a previous article that examined the practice of copayment waiver, or forgiving that portion of a patient's bill not covered by insurance.9 He observed that while physician-patients were probably more able to afford

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