Paging the lying doctor…

A wise man once said: "Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you."

Clearly, Billy Joel was talking about his doctor. As a survey published in this month’s Health Affairs finds, doctors aren’t always honest with their patients.

More than half admitted describing someone’s prognosis in a way they knew was too rosy. Nearly 20 percent said they hadn’t fully disclosed a medical mistake for fear of being sued. And one in 10 of those surveyed said they’d told a patient something that wasn’t true in the past year.

Let’s be honest: I’ve been lied to before. And I’m sure I’ve dished out some fibs myself. But the one person I’d like—and expect—the truth from is someone who’s poking and prodding me and can very well be responsible for my death.

But, alas, maybe I’m just an optimist.

One of the worst scenarios on that list of lies is the worst-case scenario: Doctors give overly positive prognoses when the outlook is grim, often because they don’t want to deliver the bad news. And they don’t have much training in how to do so. But most want to know when the worst is inevitable, so they can do whatever they feel they should before the end, and get their affairs in order. Talk about a bad surprise.

A lot of those physicians surveyed also say they don’t necessarily have to ’fess up when they make a mistake. But, most likely a doc’s mistake would require further or different treatment, so all this information seems, at the least, alarming.

It’s clear many of these “untruths” are shelled out to give people hope or to save face. But docs have one of the most responsible and respected jobs in the world; we don’t need them acting like our politicians.

But then again, maybe some of these survey respondents are just lying about lying. Apparently we can’t tell the difference. Maybe approach your doctor’s office visit with a sense of hesitation and willingness for a second opinion. Or maybe some sort of a lie detector kit.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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