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Survey: Physicians frequently lie to patients


More than 10% of physicians admit they’ve told patients something they knew wasn’t true. Find out who among your colleagues is most likely to fib, and why.

More than one in 10 physicians have told a patient something that they knew wasn’t true, according to a recent survey.

About one-third of doctors responding to the survey said they did not completely agree that they should disclose serious medical errors to patients. The survey appears in an article in the February issue of Health Affairs. One in five physicians said they had not fully disclosed an error to a patient in the previous year because they feared the admission would trigger a malpractice case.

Authors surveyed 1,891 physicians (29% internal medicine, 22% family medicine) nationwide in 2009 to find out whether they followed the communication standards established by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation’s Charter on Medical Professionalism. The document, published in 2002, urges doctors to be open and honest with patients and to disclose medical errors promptly.

“Patients who do not get the full story might not be able to make an informed choice about the best course of action for their care,” says Lisa Iezzoni, MD, MSc, lead author and professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Until all physicians take a frank and open approach to communication, it will be very difficult to enact patient-centered care more broadly.”

Other findings from the survey:

More than 55% of physicians said they often or sometimes described a patient’s prognosis in a more positive manner than the facts might support.

Women and under-represented minority physicians were significantly more likely to follow the charter’s provisions on honest communication compared with white male doctors.

More than one-third of physicians did not completely agree that they should disclose all financial ties with drug and device companies to patients, even though such ties can influence treatment.

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