Physicians Are Not Always Honest with Patients

A survey revealed that there are a number of things physicians don't always feel they need to reveal or be totally honest about with patients, which could influence care decisions.

Health Affairs

Just a few short weeks ago Americans had reaffirmed their beliefs that nurses and physicians are among the most trustworthy people. And yet, now, a study published in is contradicting that perception by revealing that physicians are not always open and honest with their patients.

In a 2009 survey of almost 2,000 physicians, a third didn’t completely agree with disclosing serious medical errors to patients. Almost one-fifth did not completely agree that physicians should never tell a patient something untrue, while half of that admitted they had told patients something that wasn’t true in the last year.

“Our findings raise concerns that some patients might not receive complete and accurate information from their physicians, and doubts about whether patient-centered care is broadly possible without more widespread physician endorsement of the core communication principles of openness and honesty with patients,” authors Lisa I. Iezzoni, Sowmya R. Rao, Catherine M. DesRoches, Christine Vogeli and Eric G. Campbell wrote.

The majority of physicians did completely agree that they should fully inform patients about risks and benefits of treatments. However, respondents admitted they don’t always follow the standards laid out in the ABIM Foundation’s Charter on Medical Professionalism.

More than half said they often or sometimes describe a prognosis to a patient so that it might seem more positive than the facts really present it. While physicians say they do this so they don’t upset patients, the report suggests that other studies have proven patients want to know the truth.

Health Affairs

“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,” Iezzoni told .

Adherence varies based on gender and race. White males are less likely to follow the Charter than women or minority physicians. As white males traditionally used to dominate the field, others entering the field might feel compelled to adhere to the rules as closely as possible.

Another thing physicians didn’t feel the need to tell their patients is their financial ties with drug and device companies. However, this might not be an issue in the near future as the a provision in the Affordable Care Act would make the information public anyway.

“Until all physicians take a frank and open approach to communication, it will be very difficult to enact patient-centered care more broadly,” Iezzoni said.