But physicians don’t always get paid. Health care is never “free”. Even in countries with socialized medicine or universal health care, someone pays for health care, it just may not be the recipient of that care.
Doctors in the United States give away their services in different ways. One is care that could be but is not reimbursed, either because it’s not a covered benefit under one’s insurance plan, is denied by insurance for some, usually unexplainable reason, or failure of the patient to pay their cost share, aka bad debt.
But many physicians voluntarily give away their services, or work for far less than they could be paid. According to another Medscape survey on physician lifestyle, a large percentage of physicians do so.
(The report focuses on burn-out, which I’m not going to address in this post. )
Among the 20,000 physicians polled, 72% of the non burn-out doctors volunteer. Even among the burned out group, 63% still volunteer.
The top volunteer activities were
work with a religious organization
work associated with school
pro-bono local clinical work
next frequent were tutoring and/or counseling, foundation work, and international mission/work.
Other activities noted were
animal rescue, medical response to disasters, work with homeless, and medical military reserves.
(The report did not specify whether or not any of these activities were compensated.)
When physicians choose to work for charitable or humanitarian type organizations, they usually make far less money than they would in private practice. Especially with faith based organizations, the doctor may have to raise support through donations from family, friends or churches.
When a doctor takes time away from practice to volunteer, there is a loss of income if that income is based on productivity. Expenses associated with volunteering is often tax deductible to some extent, but lost income is not.
Volunteer medical teams include other health professionals, including dentists, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists, as well as non-medically trained people who come along to help in any way they can. Volunteer medical teams may provide medical and surgical treatment of conditions ranging from minor to life threatening. Some focus on health education and/or training of healthcare professionals. Some organizations focus on delivering medical supplies and equipment.
Everywhere I have travelled on volunteer medical teams, the people we treat respect and admire American physicians and appreciate the care we provide-sometimes more than people here at home do. I go to help them, but usually come home feeling that I received more than I gave.
These are some of the organizations I know, there are many others.