Do You Know What Your Doctor Knows About You

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Physician Lying in New Jersey

Want to sue a doctor who lied in NJ help top lawyersWe rely on physicians for our health and sometimes, for our lives. We place our faith and trust in them, expecting them to keep us safe and well, to act professionally for our benefit and not to our detriment. A recent poll reported 67% of Americans highly rate honesty and ethical behavior in their doctors. So why do so many physicians lie to their patients? Is it ever acceptable to lie to a patient, or is it the ultimate betrayal of a sacred trust? Let’s face it. Doctors are mere human beings, with their unique personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. So, physicians sometimes lie—sometimes white lies, sometimes bigger lies.

In exploring this question of why doctors lie to their patients, we must examine intention and motivation in two types of lies: lies to protect the patient and lies to protect the physician. Whether deception or omission, physician lies that ultimately harm patients may constitute medical malpractice, regardless of intention. If you believe you are the victim of medical malpractice in New Jersey, contact our attorneys at Fronzuto Law Group to discuss your case. We provide consultations free of charge. Call 973-435-4551 for immediate assistance.

Why do Doctors Lie?

First and foremost, let’s establish what actually constitutes a lie. According philosophers, historians, encyclopedias and dictionaries, a lie is an intentional act of misleading another by deceit or omission. Many forms of lying exist, with varying degrees of truth and falsity: untruths, distortions, omissions, denials, non-responses, evasions, and sidetracking, to name a few. These are all conscious lies, not unconscious acts due to disease or disorder.

The two most common areas of physician lying, according a national survey of physicians, are bad news and mistakes—conscious lies. Physician lies of the first kind consist of watering down the patient’s conditions and treatment, leaving out some especially dismal parts and minimizing potential problems. Bad news is either downplayed or delivered in an overly cold manner or too technical to be understood, both strategies to avoid the discomfort—the patient’s and perhaps, even the physician’s. Telling a patient they will get better or feel better soon to help them psychologically most physician’s agree is an acceptable lie unless the physician knows the patient will not get better or feel better. Justification depends on intentions.

How Common is Doctors Lying?

Is it ever in a patient’s interest to not get a full report of his or her condition? Surprisingly, some doctors think so, at least according to a recent survey conducted by Health Affairs. In a poll of approximately 2,000 physicians, 34 percent of the respondents reported that they should not inform their patients if they committed serious medical errors, with 20 percent not disclosing from a fear of medical malpractice suits. In addition, 40 percent of doctors do not believe they should report their relationships with drug or medical device companies, meaning almost half of all patients are not aware of the financial incentive their doctors have for prescribing certain drugs or medical testing. Over half of the doctor-respondents gave patients a more positive diagnosis than what was appropriate. Finally — and perhaps most egregiously — 10 percent of doctors reported telling a patient something that wasn’t true within just the previous year.

The lead author of the study, Harvard Medical School Professor Lisa Iezzoni, told ABC News it isn’t entirely clear what the motivation is behind doctors’ untruthfulness, but that it is a “sign of caution” for patients. She advises patients to be clear with their doctors that they want to know the whole truth about their condition. Besides fear of litigation, some doctors simply want to provide a more positive diagnosis for personal reasons. Some feel that a patient will misuse information if he or she has access to it. For example, patients have the right to see doctors’ notes, but because of a fear that patients will misinterpret their notes or self-misdiagnose, doctors are often reluctant to open them up to patients.

Most of the doctor fears are misplaced. Studies have shown that doctors who convey mistakes to their patients often have fewer malpractice claims. In addition, allowing patients to access notes can actually answer questions for many patients, saving the doctors’ time, Dr. Kenneth Shine, the vice chancellor of health affairs at the University of Texas, recently told Time Magazine.

Lying to the Patient about Their Condition

To justify lies to protect the patient, we must weigh the physician’s dual allegiances: the conflict between wanting to be kind, compassionate and humane with clients in serious trauma and grief—a mother losing her baby, a cancer patient with weeks to live—against the importance of trust and open communication necessary for the successful patient-physician relationship. Many historians and philosophers are proponents of justifiable lying depending upon the consequences as good or bad.
Some believe context drives the acceptability of lying. For example, whether the patient is ready to hear the whole truth, the complexity of the medical condition or the patient’s expectations, all impact what a physician says. A patient’s attitude affects the outcome of treatment and recovery, so does a physician want to cause a patient to give up hope? It’s hard to look a patient in the eye and tell them they’re dying.

Moreover, discussions with patients about the possible outcomes of treatment, including side effects, may find the physician hesitant to confess a lack of control over the outcome, which results in an angry patient when things don’t turn out as expected. Perhaps physicians forget that medicine is not an exact science as much as everyone would like it to be. There’s a lot that just isn’t known. Poor communication skills may be the culprit too. It takes time and patience to explain complex medical conditions and terminology in simple terms. Sometimes it’s easier to skip over some parts, especially when time is money. Most doctors are pressed to see back to back patients with barely enough time to review patient charts, let alone field time-consuming questions and concerns.

Doctors Lying to Cover up Medical Mistakes

Physician lies of the second kind—mistakes—are calculated to protect the physician. According to a national survey of 1981 physicians, many physicians fail to admit errors or admit to only minimal information. Only 6% admit disclosing medical mistakes, 41% surveyed admitted minor errors leading to longer patient treatment and discomfort, and only 5% admitted to major mistakes leading to disability or death. Litigation fears motivate this type of lying even though evidence shows that error disclosure typically reduces litigation risk. Medical errors may result from negligence, in which case the patient may have the right to sue for medical malpractice.

One fifth of responding physicians in the survey did not agree they should disclose their financial arrangements with drug and device companies. Some doctors admitted they lie to get approval for procedures or treatments from insurance companies, when the procedures or tests are for important tests like mammograms or heart bypass surgery, not cosmetic surgery. These mistruths are largely motivated by getting patients the procedures and treatment they need, though physicians get paid this way too. Lying to insurers or Medicaid to get necessary treatment to patients attests to the weakness in a system that pits physicians getting paid for necessary treatment for their patients against their duty to be honest, when their primary responsibility is to the patient. Another study shows 40.0% would lie by omission in the event of a near miss incident if it didn’t affect the patient, and half would lie to insurance companies to get patients benefits. And what about placebos? Placebos are lies by omission but work in 30% of their use. Half of all physicians admit to using them.

Doctor Patient Communication is Important

Lying diminishes patient autonomy and deception hinders a patient from making an informed decision about their own health. Best practices dictate patients be given reasonable expectations of outcomes based on the physician’s experience and facts, honestly, while not being insensitive. Professional standards require physicians to be honest with their patients so they can make informed choices about their treatment. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics requires physicians to be professional, honest, and upright, citing the patient’s right to know all facts upon which to make an informed decision about medical care. In addition, physicians must report other deceptive, incompetent or fraudulent physicians. The AMA further warns that a physician’s honesty should not be conditioned upon legal consequence.

Good doctor-patient communication is key to a healthy relationship, and a healthy patient. To do your part as a patient:

  • Be clear to your doctor about what you want, and what you want to hear
  • Learn about your condition and treatment decisions yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • Speak to your doctor in person, not over the phone
  • Note questions down as they arise, and bring a list to your appointment

In addition, for serious ailments, a second opinion may provide a different perspective regarding treatment, as well as guard against misdiagnosis.

Doctor Lied to You in NJ? Consult a Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Help

Violations of trust bring in complications in the doctor-patient relationship and weaken the ability of a doctor to help patients. If the doctor lies, why wouldn’t the patient? And physicians rely on patient information to make an accurate diagnosis. Open two-way conversations are incredibly important to obtaining reliable information from patients and their families. Lying in the doctor-patient relationship evokes guilt, mistrust, betrayal, despair, cynicism, negativity, loss of credibility, and false hope. Less than complete care or harmful treatment occurs with misinformation. If you believe you have been injured because of a doctor’s negligence or the withholding of information, contact a skilled New Jersey medical malpractice lawyer at Fronzuto Law Group to discuss your legal options. Call 973-435-4551 now for a free consultation.


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