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Doctors’ Honesty Put to the Test

Survey Finds Some Doctors Are Not Truthful About Patients' Prognoses and Are Unwilling to Disclose Mistakes for Fear of Lawsuits

Doctor Honesty: Possible Interpretations

Iezzoni says she is not discouraged by the results. "I do think it raises a lot of questions about this mantra repeated over and over again in health care reform about patient-centered care," she says.

"You can't have true patient-centered care until patients are fully informed and can become educated and involved in their medical care, to the extent they want to be," she tells WebMD.
Patients need to decide how much they want to know, she says. "My advice to patients is to think deeply about the extent they want to have open conversations. If they do, realize this is something physicians are professionally and ethically obligated to do."

Patients should feel comfortable asking their doctor questions, she says. However, she admits some can get ticklish. One example: asking your doctor if he has ties to the company that makes the drug he has just prescribed. (By March 2013, drug and medical device companies must report payments to doctors in excess of $10. This is required by the Physician Payment Sunshine Act of 2009. The information will be on the Internet.)

Doctor Honesty Study: Second Opinion

"I think these are important findings," says Caleb Alexander, MD, a faculty member at the University of Chicago's MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. He is also an associate professor of internal medicine. It should motivate doctors and patients to talk about their relationship, he says.

However, he tells WebMD, not knowing the explanation for the behaviors is a limitation.

A doctor bending the truth may be doing so out of his own best interest or the patient's, Alexander says.

For instance, if he has a highly anxious patient who has one lab test that is slightly out of the normal range -- but does not pose a problem to her health -- he may tell her all is well rather than alarm her without need.

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