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Study shows physicians may be sugarcoating diagnosis information

A new survey of about 1,900 physicians nationwide reveals some surprising information about how doctors deliver information to patients. 55% said that in the last year, they had been more positive about a patient's prognosis than their medical history might have warranted. A surprising 10% reported telling patients something that wasn't true.

The study's lead author says that doctors admitted to not disclosing errors because they were afraid of being sued for malpractice. Others said that they might spare a particularly anxious patient from the extra worry if they don't believe it will have an impact on the patient's health.

The study also shows a range of opinions about what patients need to know. About one third of respondents said that they did not completely agree that they should disclose medical errors to their patients.

There are a variety of reasons why a doctor would want to carefully calibrate how they discuss a diagnosis with a patient. Doctors who present a prognosis in a more positive light indicated that they might want to soften the pain of the bad news and help patients remain optimistic about their recovery. For the doctors who fear a malpractice suit, the study's author says that openness and honesty about mistake may actually help discourage suits. Malpractice actions are often brought after an egregious mistake or ongoing damage to a patient.

Common types of medical malpractice suits include surgical errors, mismanaged labor and delivery, or improper administration of medicine. Patients who suffer from an injury caused by malpractice may want to consult a lawyer to find out if they are eligible for recovery.

Source: Time Magazine, "White Coats, White Lies: How Honest is Your Doctor?" Alice Park, Feb. 9, 2012.

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