Many Doctors Admit to Not Being Truthful with Patients

If some patients felt that they could not trust their doctors before, a recent study in Health Affairs probably won’t help – namely because many physicians admit that they aren’t entirely truthful with the people that they provide health care for.

Researchers asked 1,891 doctors – who practiced in a variety of specialties including anesthesiology, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, cardiology and internal medicine – about how they communicate with their patients. The results showed that many doctors are less than honest when discussing care with their patients. For example:

  • 20 percent of doctors did not disclose that they had made a medical mistake, and about one-third of doctors believed they shouldn’t have to
  • 55 percent of survey respondents said they were more positive than they should have been when discussing a patient’s prognosis
  • about 10 percent of doctors said that they told a patient something that wasn’t true
  • over 25 percent of participants admitted to revealing information about a patient to a third party without authorization

The basis for the questions in the study was the Charter on Medical Professionalism outlined by the American Board of Internal Medicine ( ABIM). In this charter, which has been endorsed by over 100 groups for medical professionals, standards were established for how doctors should communicate openly with their patients.

Effects of Dishonesty on the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Study researchers said that doctors did not necessarily intend to cause their patients harm when they danced around the truth. For example, doctors may give a more optimistic prognosis to spare the patient from experiencing anxiety.

However, an argument can be made that these individuals need to hear the truth in order to make informed treatment decisions. Moreover, this lack of honesty can cause a serious breach of trust in the doctor-patient relationship that can negatively affect the patient’s care.

“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,” the study’s author said in a statement. “Until all physicians take a frank and open approach to communication, it will be very difficult to enact patient-centered care more broadly.”

If you are concerned that your doctor may not be telling you the full truth make sure you communicate to him or her about your desire that they communicate with you honestly.