Many Doctors Withhold Truth From Their Patients, Study Finds
Approximately one in three physicians does not believe they should disclose all serious medical errors to their patients, according to a study published in Health Affairs, HealthDay reports (Health Day, 2/8).
For the study, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers in 2009 surveyed nearly 1,891 physicians to determine how closely medical professionals adhere to the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation's Charter on Medical Professionalism, which calls for physicians to be honest and open with patients (Marcy, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 2/8).
Overall, 83% of respondents agreed with a statement that said physicians should never lie to a patient (Lowes, Medscape Medical News, 2/8). However, about 34% of physicians did not completely agree with the statement that physicians should disclose "all significant medical errors to affected patients."
Nearly 20% of the physicians surveyed said they did not fully disclose a mistake to a patient within the past year for fear of being sued (Iezzoni et al, Health Affairs, February 2012).
In addition, 11% of participants said they had lied to a patient or a patient's guardian in the preceding 12-month period, while 55% said they had explained a patient's prognosis more positively than was warranted.
According to the findings, women and underrepresented minorities in medicine were more likely to be honest with patients. For example, 8% of female physicians reported lying to a patient in the past year, compared with 13% of male physicians.
Overall, cardiologists and general surgeons were the least likely to say they had lied to a patient in the past 12 months, and pediatricians and psychiatrists were the most likely. Meanwhile, physicians practicing at medical centers or universities were more likely to think it is necessary to disclose medical errors than physicians at smaller practices (Medscape Medical News, 2/8).
According to study author Lisa Iezzoni, the director of MGH's Mongan Institute for Health Policy, the findings suggest that patients "do not get the full story" and may "not be able to make an informed choice about the best course of action for their care." She warns that "[u]ntil all physicians take a frank and open approach to communication, it will be very difficult to enact patient-centered care more broadly" (HealthDay, 2/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.