Is Lying by Doctors Fairly Prevalent?

“O what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.” The saying goes back two hundred years to the novelist Sir Walter Scott. As a general maxim, it has many applications. But it is jarring to think that one of them is to the practice of medicine today – and that the lack of candor may sometimes be to conceal medical malpractice.

According to new research, a surprising number of doctors tell various forms of white lies. In the February issue of Health Affairs, Harvard Medical School researchers reported that many doctors tend to shade the truth in their communications with patients.

The study found, for example, that 11 percent of doctors admit to having made an untrue statement in the last year to either a patient or a guardian of a child patient. Moreover, about one of every five doctors surveyed for the research said that they have experienced a time when they have not completely disclosed a mistake to a patient.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, who teaches medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has said that it is inexcusable for a doctor to withhold information about a mistake. After all, a serious mistake means that the treatment for the patient in question may now need to change in order to address that mistake. If that isn’t done, the mistakes can begin to multiply.

The results of the study are troubling. It is worrisome to think that doctors being untruthful to patients is as common as the study indicates. One wonders what impacts this is having on the quality of healthcare in the U.S. and what can be done to reduce the occurrence of untruthfulness in the interactions between doctors and patients.

Source:, “Many docs tell white lies, study finds,” Feb. 8, 2012

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