Hospitals

Are more than 10 percent of doctors liars? Survey says, ‘yes’

About 11 percent of doctors have knowingly lied to a patient in the last year, according to a new survey published in Health Affairs. Reasons why doctors lie to patients vary. Nearly 20 percent of physicians said they had not fully disclosed an error to a patient  due to fear of malpractice litigation. More than […]

About 11 percent of doctors have knowingly lied to a patient in the last year, according to a new survey published in Health Affairs.

Reasons why doctors lie to patients vary. Nearly 20 percent of physicians said they had not fully disclosed an error to a patient  due to fear of malpractice litigation. More than 55 percent of doctors said they’ve described a patient’s prognosis in a more positive manner than the facts might support.

Many doctors apparently aren’t big fans of disclosure. About one-third didn’t agree that they should disclose serious medical errors to patients, while nearly two-fifths said they did not completely agree that they should disclose their financial relationships with drug and device companies to patients, according to Health Affairs.

Dr. Mike Sevilla, a Youngstown, Ohio-area family physician and social media enthusiast, said that doctors generally strive for open communication with patients, but often there are gray areas.

“When it comes to describing a patient’s condition and prognosis, especially with complicated cases, sometimes it’s difficult for the physician to make an exact assessment,” Sevilla said. “What many physicians do is give a best-case scenario, a worst-case scenario and then their medical opinion. Is this describing a ‘patient’s prognosis in a more positive manner than warranted?’ I guess people will have to decide on that.”

What types of doctors are most likely to lie? Male doctors who graduated from medical schools outside the U.S. or Canada. The survey also found that cardiologists and psychiatrists were the least likely to completely agree about needing to disclose all serious medical errors to patients.

The findings come from a 2009 survey of more than 1,800 physicians nationwide to see whether they follow standards of professionalism issued in 2002.

Writing at the Incidental Economist, Aaron Carroll was not pleased with the results of the survey:

I applaud the honesty of those answering the survey, but we’ve got to do better. We cannot, as a profession continue to think that we are immune to conflicts of interest (and yet want to hide them). We cannot, as a profession, not be truthful with those who entrust us with their care. And we cannot, as a profession, fear potential accountability so much that we hide mistakes from our patients, especially when honesty has been shown to make lawsuits less likely.