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Truthful Doctors May Prevent Malpractice Suits

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 16, 2012

In our conversation, she listed some possibilities. "Maybe doctors don't want to upset patients. Maybe doctors feel if they tell patients the truth about their prognosis, it's going to cause the patient undue amount of stress. Maybe doctors aren't trained to talk to patients about different truths," Iezzoni says. "Maybe doctors don't feel they have enough time in 10 to 15 minutes to have a complete conversation about a patient's prognosis."

"Patients themselves are going to have different preferences for how open they want doctors to be," she adds. "There are certain patients who may say, ' I don't want to know everything, just tell me what to do, give me the highlights. Then there are those who want to be frank and open and have a complete discussion about what their prognosis is. They want to know everything."

Iezzoni noted the ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) Foundation's Charter on Medical Professionalism, published in 2002, urged doctors to be "open and honest" with patients and to disclose medical errors promptly. With this latest survey, it doesn't appear physicians are following the guidelines or standards of communication laid out by the foundation, she conceded.

With the high percentage of defensive medicine practiced, as well as physicians trying to hide potential errors to offset potential malpractice litigation, Iezzoni notes, "We need to do a lot more work from the patient and physician side to get to the point there is more openness and frank discussion about the patient's health and patient's prognosis."

"Patients need to feel comfortable going into the doctor's office, and saying, 'Look I want to have a conversation about how I want you to talk to me about my health.'"

Engaging in that conversation with complete honesty could be a first step toward avoiding a malpractice suit.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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2 comments on "Truthful Doctors May Prevent Malpractice Suits"


Deb Levy (2/16/2012 at 4:23 PM)
I can tell you from personal experience that it's true admitting a mistake can save a world of hurt. There was a mix-up in the size of the knees replacement in the OR and 3 days post-op the femur fractured. After the open internal fixation of the fracture the surgeon told of the error and the possiblity that was the reason for the fracture. I so appreciated the honesty that when further complications occurred & he said the treatment was best done by subspecialist I trusted him. Even after the leg ended up being amputated (due to a multitude of complications) I never considered suing, although there were plenty of people who said we should. Never once have I regretted not suing. Heaven couldn't have helped him had I found out the error some way other than him telling me!

C Ghosh (2/16/2012 at 3:51 PM)
Sadly this HealthLeaders study falls into the trap so many other similar studies do: It makes the assumption that there actually is something called "defensive medicine" and that doctors are consciously doing extra testing for fear of a lawsuit. Doctors, who have been accused of driving up national medical costs by over ordering testing, have defensively fallen back on the "fear of malpractice made me do it" excuse. The truth is EVERY TIME a doctor orders a test, the doctor needs that extra information. For example, if a patient has a cut on her hand, her doctor won't order a CT Scan of her foot. NEVER. A headache may warrant a CT Scan because we don't know what's causing it. While health economists see this as extra testing, it's not to the doctor who is trying to make the correct diagnosis. Doctors have been so conditioned to think that anything the outside experts may think as superfluous is "defensive medicine," that doctors themselves label every extra test as "defensive medicine." The real kicker in this survey is that only 2% ordered for financial gain.