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Guess What? Some Doctors Lie To Patients

February 9, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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Of 1,891 physicians surveyed in 2009, one in five—19.9 percent—said they had not fully disclosed an error to a patient in the previous year because they feared a lawsuit.

More than a third said they did not completely agree it was necessary to disclose all serious medical errors to affected patients. Eleven percent said they had told patients a lie in the previous year, and 17 percent said they did not completely agree that physicians should never tell a patient something untrue.

Does this astonish you? Or do you react the way one drily sarcastic commenter did to a Kaiser Health News blog post: “Shocking. Who would have thought such a thing possible?”

Health Affairs published a study based on the survey in its February issue. The Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston administered the eight-page survey in May 2009 to 3,500 physicians. Of those, 1,891 completed the questionnaire.

Some of the findings seem at least potentially benign. For example, more than 55 percent of the physicians said they sometimes described a patient’s prognosis more positively than was warranted. That could merely mean choosing the least alarming path through an uncomfortable conversation.

But the researchers, led by Lisa Iezzoni, MD, director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, take the survey results very seriously indeed. They contend:

Our findings raise concerns that some patients might not receive complete and accurate information from their physicians, and doubts about whether patient-centered care is broadly possible without more widespread physician endorsement of the core communication principles of openness and honesty with patients.

Speaking of uncomfortable conversations, more than a third of the physicians said they did not completely agree that they should disclose to patients the doctors’ financial relationships with drug and medical-device companies.

That issue, at least, will soon be taken out of their hands. Federal law requires drug and device companies to begin disclosing their payments to doctors next year. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are working on final regulations required to carry out the law.

Related seminar: Radiology Review

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