Study Shows that Physicians Often Not Completely Honest About Prognosis or Medical Errors

A new study in the journal Health Affairs shows that some health care providers are not always completely honest about medical errors, the severity of a prognosis or their relationships with drug companies.

The study involved surveying about 1,800 physicians from across the country in a variety of practice areas and specialties. Researchers found that 20 percent of these physicians had not revealed a medical error in the past year because they were concerned about being sued. An even larger group ¨C about 35 percent ¨Creported that they did not “completely agree” if they should disclose medical errors considered serious to their patients, according to the Huffington Post.

More than a third of the surveyed physicians did not “completely agree” that they needed to disclose a financial relationship with a drug company or a medical device company. Alarmingly, more than half of the respondents said they had described a prognosis in a more positive light than was warranted, according to Fox Business online. More than 10 percent of the surveyed physicians admitted they had told a patient an untruth in the past 12 months.

The study aimed to reveal physicians’ attitudes about communications with patients. According to the Charter on Medical Professionalism, communication is among the three principles that guide physicians. The study relies on the charter’s communication claims as a guide for pursuing more data about how physicians communicate with patients and their families. General surgeons were more likely than their physician counterparts to agree that medical errors needed to be revealed to patients. The study also found that about 25 percent of physicians admitted that they had revealed unauthorized information about a patient.

There are many reasons that physicians feel the need to bend the truth, according to the study’s author, Dr. Lisa I. Iezzoni, who is the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Morgan Institute for Health Policy.

A bad prognosis can be difficult to give especially if the physician and patient have a history together, Iezzoni said. Some doctors give a rosier prognosis than is warranted because it is less stressful for the patient, but that is not in the best interest of the patient, she said. Hiding medical errors might be more justifiable in terms of reducing patient stress, Iezzoni said. She emphasized that patients with more information will be able to better understand their condition and how to confront it.

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act of 2009 will require companies to disclose payments to physicians of more than $10. This law goes into effect in 2013. The study points out that once this law goes into effect, patients will want to have more conversations about the relationships their physicians have with drug companies and medical device companies, according to Fox Business.

Patients who suffered because they made medical decisions based on bad information from physicians who were trying to “protect” them from the truth have the right to consider seeking a claim. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can advise patients on how best to proceed against a physician who was not honest about a diagnosis.

Robert Briskman is a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer and Chicago medical malpractice attorney with Briskman Briskman & Greenberg. To learn more call 1.877.595.4878 or visit

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