Survey Says Some Doctors Lie To Patients To Cover Medical Errors

The headline in the Boston Globe read, “Doctors Admit They Lie To Patients and Hide Mistakes, Survey Reveals”. While it is an exaggeration based on the article’s content and the actual findings contained in the survey, it did grab my attention.
According to a 2009 survey published today in Health Affairs, many doctors lie to patients when it comes to their own medical errors. According to the Globe, “There’s an expectation that our doctors will be truthful, and most are but some are not,” said study co-author Eric Campbell, director of research at the hospital’s Mongan Institute for Health Policy. The researchers didn’t determine whether any patients were harmed because of a physician’s dishonesty.
The survey found that nearly one-fifth of doctors said they hadn’t fully disclosed their mistakes over the past year in order to avoid a lawsuit.
“I was disappointed to see so many doctors not disclosing errors,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who wasn’t involved in the study. “They may dodge a bullet, but if it’s found out later, they can really get clobbered for not telling the truth — to say nothing of the patient consequences.”
This is a new wrinkle in the ongoing debate about medical errors-one which admittedly received little attention until today. It’s probably safe to assume most people believe in the overall integrity of doctors and healthcare workers so these findings come as a surprise. Ethical issues aside, the survey reflects what our firm has been writing about in this blog for quite some time-underlying most medical errors or mistakes is a general failure in communication.