Doctors Sometimes Are Dishonest With Patients

Information is a powerful ally in making decisions about your health care, whether you’re pondering the wisdom of taking a daily aspirin or whether or not to have chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis. Readers of this blog are aware of our interest in full, forthright communication with caregivers-it’s the currency of patient care.

A study from 2012 shows why advocating for patients and medical professionals to communicate well remains a priority.

Published in Health Affairs, a journal that focuses on the intersection of health policy, research and practice, the study acknowledges that some physicians are not always open or honest with patients.

Not, mind you, that sometimes they misunderstand, or just aren’t very good at the talking part of patient care, but that they knowingly mislead or lie to their patients.

Especially when it comes to disclosing errors or malpractice events in care.

As the study notes, the Charter on Medical Professionalism is a global professional guideline supported by the organization that accredits U.S. medical education. It requires openness and honesty in physicians’ communications with patients, but data collected from 1,891 practicing U.S. physicians called into question whether those standards are universally embraced.

“The vast majority of physicians completely agreed that physicians should fully inform patients about the risks and benefits of interventions and should never disclose confidential information to unauthorized persons,” the authors reported. But:

  • approximately 1 in 3 physicians did not completely agree with disclosing serious medical errors to patients;
  • nearly 1 in 5 physicians did not completely agree that physicians should never tell a patient something untrue;
  • nearly 2 in 5 physicians did not completely agree that they should disclose their financial relationships with drug and device companies to patients;
  • 1 in 10 physicians said they had told patients something untrue in the previous year.

“Our findings raise concerns that some patients might not receive complete and accurate information from their physicians,” the researchers concluded, “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.”

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