Envelope culture in the healthcare system: happy poison for the vulnerable


Bribing doctors for preferential treatment is rampant in the healthcare system of developing countries like Vietnam. Although bribery raises the out-of-pocket expenditures of patients, it is so common to be deemed an “envelope culture.” Given the little understanding of the underlying mechanism of the culture, this study employed the mindsponge theory for reasoning the mental processes of both patients and doctors for why they embrace the “envelope culture” and used the Bayesian Mindsponge Framework (BMF) analytics to validate our reasoning. Analyzing responses from 1042 Vietnamese patients, we discovered that bribing doctors can help patients reduce the destitution risk induced by treatment. Such effect of doctor bribery remains consistent among patients that have to pay high daily costs (e.g., accommodation and subsistence fees) regardless of their employment status. Nevertheless, for patients with no or unstable jobs, their risks of destitution increase if they have to pay more thank-you money. These findings suggest that doctor bribery is an adaptive strategy for patients in an environment where the healthcare supply cannot meet the actual demand. Moreover, healthcare equity is greatly exacerbated due to the envelope culture, as vulnerable individuals are exposed to a greater threat of poverty. At the same time, those with good economic conditions get preferential treatment by paying a higher amount of thank-you money. Healthcare workers’ ethics must be the top priority for an equitable and proper healthcare system.

Author Profiles

Giang Hoang
Monash University
Minh-Hoang Nguyen
Phenikaa University


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