A new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School has just been published in the health policy journal Health Affairs, and shows that many doctors are not being honest with their patients. This is in spite of the fact that openness, communication and transparency with patients is an institutional standard for good care.
Here are some of the surprising (and frankly disturbing) findings. These bullets are summarized from the Health Affairs analysis on the study of almost 2,000 physicians nation-wide, in a blog post that can be found here:
Though the majority of physicians believe they should fully inform patients about their prognosis and treatment options, many admitted they’re not always honest with their patients about the risks and benefits of their treatment options.
Almost 20% of 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.
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. Physicians often rationalize this practice by saying they do not want to upset patients or cause them to lose hope. However, studies suggest that most patients do want to be told the truth, even if the outlook is dire, so that they can make the best possible decisions under the circumstances.
Women and under-represented minority physicians were more likely to have honest communication compared to white male doctors. The authors note that women and minority physicians have entered a field that historically has been dominated by white males. Women and minority physicians might feel compelled to rigorously adhere to standards of professional behavior, the authors say.
More than a third of physicians did not completely agree that they should disclose all financial ties with drug companies to patients, even though such ties can influence treatment.
What does this mean? It means the culture of medicine needs to change. It means that although doctors hold much of the power in their relationship with patients as gatekeepers of information, it’s our duty to demand that our physicians tell us the truth and disclose any and all information that impacts the care we receive.
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