Doctors don’t always confess to mistakes, study suggests

If your doctor makes a mistake while treating you at your Chicago clinic or if an Illinois hospital fails to properly diagnose your child at an ER visit, you probably expect to at least be told the truth about what happened.

However, a new study shows an alarming trend among doctors. Many physicians lie to their patients or patients’ guardians to avoid legal repercussions or charges of medical malpractice. The study, which was conducted by the Harvard Medical School and published in the February edition of the academic journal Health Affairs, concluded that 11 percent of the medical professionals polled had lied to a patient or a patient’s guardian about their health during the past year, and about 20 percent have concealed information from patients to prevent being sued. Furthermore, 34 percent of those same doctors oppose revealing all significant medical errors to patients who are affected by the mistakes.

More than half of the physicians who participated in the study admitted to presenting medical conditions in a falsely positive light to patients and about 30 percent said they had disclosed private patient information to an unauthorized party. Other physicians agreed that they should not have to disclose financial relationships between themselves and medical device makers or pharmaceutical companies with their patients.

The ramifications of such a finding have a significant reach in the medical community, according to researchers. Patients are unable to make appropriate healthcare decisions if they do not have all of the facts, say the study’s authors, which could lead to further physical harm. Those physicians who are ignoring a patient’s right to be informed are patently disobeying one of the most fundamental tenets of medicine: respect for patients’ preferences, needs and values.

Critics of the study argue that physicians should not be required to disclose every minute detail of a patient’s physical situation. Mistakes don’t always harm patients, and patients might just be more confused if they receive too much information from their physicians.

The survey included nearly 2,000 physicians from multiple specialties throughout the nation.

Source: msnbc, “Many docs tell white lies, study finds,” Feb. 8, 2012

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