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Surprising Science

Sugar Coating: What Your Doctor Really Prescribes

In a new Harvard survey, a majority of doctors said they had been overly optimistic about a patient's prognosis and ten percent said they had told patients something that was not true.

What’s the Latest Development?

A new Harvard study calls into question our assumption that medicine is one of the most honest professions. In a survey of 1,900 doctors from across the country, 55 percent said they had been overly optimistic about a patient’s prognosis and 10 percent said they had said something untrue. “About a third of the MDs said they did not completely agree that they should disclose medical errors to patients, and 40 percent said they didn’t feel the need to disclose financial ties to drug or device companies.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Should doctors lie to their patients? Sugar coating a prognosis may help soften the blow of bad medical news but a more worrying cause of dishonesty persists. In the survey, 20 percent of doctors said they had failed to disclose a medical error for fear of being sued. The study’s lead author, Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, says those fears are misplaced. A majority of patients say they prefer to know the truth and doctors who are open about their errors are less likely to be sued than those whose errors are discovered by patients further down the line.

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