NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2007

Although virtually all doctors think they should report impaired or incompetent colleagues or serious medical errors to the relevant authorities, nearly half don't, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

According to researchers:

  • While 96 percent of respondents said doctors should always report impaired or incompetent colleagues, only 55 percent of those with direct personal knowledge of such doctors in the past three years said they always did so.
  • And while 93 percent of respondents said doctors should always alert authorities when they observe serious medical errors, only 54 percent of those who had such information in the past three years said they always did so.

The other main discrepancy between what doctors said they believe and what they said they practice related to distribution of health care resources.  Nearly all said doctors should minimize disparities due to race or gender.  But a third said they would give in to a patient who demanded an MRI because of back pain, even if the pain was likely to go away on its own.

"There's a lot of pressure on physicians to keep their patients happy," senior author David Blumenthal, a Harvard internist who directs Massachusetts General Hospital's health policy institute says.  "Part of the problem with the American health care system has been that there is no throttle on test-ordering."

Source: Rita Rubin, "Study: Doctors don't always report colleagues, errors," USA Today, December 3, 2007.

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