VILNIUS - Doctors have been found to regularly accept bribes from patients despite changes to the law which made the practice illegal and the creation of a special program tasked with stamping out the phenomenon.
Patients frequently bribe doctors in order to receive heightened treatment, a practice that has been illegal since 2006. Despite this, in many cases doctors still receive a 'gift' from patients before their consultation in an attempt to get more attention.
Patients say they are fearful that they will not be treated properly if they don't pay up.
Lithuanian Bioethics Committee representative Eugenijus Gefenas told The Baltic Times that the government has created a taskforce aimed at ending the practice.
"There is a special governmental anti-corruption program which also aims to reduce this phenomenon in the health care field," he said.
Before July 14, 2006, it was legal to give the doctor a 'gift' up to the value of 125 litas.
"The amendment of the Code was introduced in order to stop incentives for giving gifts to health care practitioners, which was considered to be one of the factors increasing the phenomenon of bribery in health care," Gefenas said.
Dalius Ramancionis, president of the Lithuanian National Medical Association, said the practice has changed somewhat as doctors now receive discreet envelope payments more often than material gifts.
"People used to give alcohol or chocolates, but then they realized that doctors didn't need that and gave them money instead," he said.
Ramancionis said the problem lies in the system, making it particularly difficult to squash. He said doctors are paid 2,000 litas per month, but often with overtime in order to help bring down long lines of patients.
"Most doctors work two or three jobs," he said.
Horror stories are common for patients who refuse to pay the bribes.
Dovile Rinceviciene has two children. The first time she gave birth, she did not want to pay a sum of money to doctors for the birth process and regretted it. By coincidence Rinceviciene was giving birth to her second child at the same time as her friend, but this time she paid 1000 litas to the doctor responsible for her child's delivery.
"The second time I paid, but my friend didn't and she had very big problems. She was in the hospital for two weeks with complications, but I was out after one day. I think this is because she didn't pay," Rinceviciene said.
Rinceviciene also had problems when she went to the emergency ward with her two-year-old son who had hurt his head. She did not pay a bribe and waited two hours before being screamed at by the doctor.
"If you don't pay the doctor, they are awful to you 's they treat you like you are a homeless person off the street," she said.
Ramancionis was quick to defend doctors on the issue, however. He acknowledges that the 'gift' giving culture is a disgusting violation of ethics, but said the quality of medicine from the doctor would be the same.
"There won't be a problem in the treatment itself, but if you need consultations after, they won't pay attention to you. Of course some doctors refuse to take bribes at all," he said.
Though bribery in the medical profession continues to be a problem, some believe that it could all be a case of a few bad instances ruining it for everyone.
"I think that doctors don't care and really good doctors go to work in other countries, because the salary is very small. And, I don't want to say that there aren't good doctors, it's just my experience," Rinceviciene said.