Friday, February 10, 2012

First Do No Harm...Including Lying

Patients trust their doctors to provide them high quality care, as well as look after their best interests. This trust is built upon assurance that their doctors are telling them everything they need to know. However, that may not be the case. According to a 2009 survey recently published in Health Affairs, in which 1800 physicians in the US were interviewed, 11% admitted to lying to their patients within the last year.

The reasons for these untruths vary. More than half (55%) have given their patients a more positive prognosis than their test results support. This may be done in order to put their patients in a positive mindset for treatment, thereby unconsciously aiding their recovery, or simply emphasizing a best case scenario. That doesn't mean that physicians are always lying for the benefit of their patients, though. Nearly 20% who admitted lying did so because they had committed a medical error and did not want their patients to sue for malpractice. In these cases, the lies might have seriously harmed patient outcome because of lack of disclosure.

What do these findings mean for the medical profession? It certainly warrants a change in behavior. If patients cannot trust their physician to give them an honest answer, their health may be in jeopardy. The healthcare relationship is built on trust and being a team through the process of treatment and recovery. When one of the team players is keeping secrets, it does not bode well for the outcome.

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