OBJECTIVES: To study and report the attitudes and practices of physicians in a former Soviet republic regarding issues pertaining to patients' rights, physician negligence and the acceptance of gratuities from patients. DESIGN: Survey questionnaire administered to physicians in 1991 at the time of the Soviet breakup. SETTING: Estonia, formerly a Soviet republic, now an independent state. SURVEY SAMPLE: A stratified, random sample of 1,000 physicians, representing approximately 20 per cent of practicing physicians under the age of 65. RESULTS: Most physicians shared information with patients about treatment risks and alternatives, with the exception of cancer patients: only a third of physicians tell the patient when cancer is suspected. Current practice at the time of the survey left patients few options when physician negligence occurred; most physicians feel that under a reformed system physician negligence should be handled within the local facility rather than by the government. It was common practice for physicians to receive gifts, tips, or preferential access to scarce consumer goods from their patients. Responses varied somewhat by facility and physician nationality. CONCLUSION: The ethics of Soviet medical practice were different in a number of ways from generally accepted norms in Western countries. Physicians' attitudes about the need for ethical reform suggest that there will be movement in Estonia towards a system of medical ethics that more closely approximates those in the West.
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