NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Some Physicians Are Not Always Open or Honest With Patients

February 13, 2012

The Charter on Medical Professionalism, endorsed by more than 100 professional groups worldwide and the US Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, requires openness and honesty in physicians' communication with patients.  Lisa I. Iezzoni, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and her coauthors present data from a 2009 survey of 1,891 practicing physicians nationwide assessing how widely physicians endorse and follow these principles in communicating with patients:

  • The vast majority of physicians completely agree that physicians should fully inform patients about the risks and benefits of interventions and should never disclose confidential information to unauthorized persons.
  • Overall, approximately one-third of physicians did not completely agree with disclosing serious medical errors to patients, almost one-fifth did not completely agree that physicians should never tell a patient something untrue, and nearly two-fifths did not completely agree that they should disclose their financial relationships with drug and device companies to patients.
  • Just over one-tenth said they had told patients something untrue in the previous year.

The survey's findings raise concerns that some patients might not receive complete and accurate information from their physicians, and doubts about whether patient-centered care is broadly possible without more widespread physician endorsement of the core communication principles of openness and honesty with patients.

Source: Lisa I. Iezzoni et al., "Survey Shows That At Least Some Physicians Are Not Always Open or Honest With Patients," Health Affairs, February 2012.

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