Americans are raised to trust their doctors. The men and women in white coats who have a unique outlook on life, and who often are called on to hold others’ lives in their hands. We are awed by their abilities, and yet constantly disappointed and befuddled by our complex medical system. With the complicated involvement of drug and insurance companies, and the economic push and pull on medical practices large and small, can we still trust our healthcare professionals are telling us the whole truth about our conditions and best treatment options? The answer may surprise you.
A recent, nationwide survey of more than 1,800 physicians, led by Lisa Iezzoni, the director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, aimed to discover the answer to that question. Is it a doctor’s duty to never tell a patient something that is not true? 17% of those polled had some level of disagreement. How often are these half truths or downright lies told in the doctor’s office? 11% of the surveyed physicians acknowledged they had lied to a patient within the last year.
The survey didn’t go so far as to ask doctors for the specific type of lie, but further survey answers reveal that these aren’t all ‘little white lies”, allowing the patient to view their predicament through rose colored glasses. 55% of the doctors admitted they had described their prognosis to their patients in a more positive way than the prognosis warranted.
Why would so many physicians, whose supposed mission is to heal, find this level of dishonesty necessary? Again, this may be somewhat attributable to the involvement of insurance companies, and the financial impact of drug manufacturers. The survey went on to find that 34% of those polled did not agree that “all significant medical errors” should be revealed to their patients, and fully 20% admitted to withholding information about their own medical mistakes over the past year. Further reading reveals that 35% of those polled disagreed with the idea that they should be made to reveal any financial ties to the companies that make drugs and medical devices, many of which are constant visitors at hospitals and private practices alike. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that the current structure of our healthcare system may be impacting the level of care, and clear involvement in that care, that patients are receiving.
Explaining their findings in the study’s abstract, the organization concluded that doctors must better embrace an open and honest approach with their patients. Even though personal responsibility among caregivers may be the only way to fight this trend. I doubt many people who need to engage with the healthcare system will trust this level of accountability is possible.
This study may fuel the fire of mistrust many people feel for medical professionals, who seem to hold themselves to a different standard of rules and realities than ‘civilians’. In an additional study conducted last year, released by the Archives of Internal Medicine, doctors were polled to discover which treatment they would choose, versus what they would recommend to patients with similar situations. What was found was that physicians are completely influenced by their perspective, and would make different recommendations to their patients (generally options that led to higher survival rates but many more potential complications and side effects), than they would choose for themselves. Why would they take on a riskier treatment than they would offer their patients? Perhaps we’d be better off looking for answers outside the current system, or better yet studying at one of the top online masters in nursing programs and diagnosing ourselves.