Is Your Doctor Lying to You?

Is your doctor being completely honest with you? Are you sure?

A new study, led by researchers from Harvard Medical School, indicates that some doctors refuse to tell their patients the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Results showed that at least one out of every ten doctors surveyed had lied to a patient in the last year alone.

Lies can include everything from neglecting to disclose a financial interest with a medical device or pharmaceutical company to omitting the fact that a medical error was made during the course of a patient’s treatment.

But here’s the real shocker: most of the nearly 1,900 doctors who participated in the survey said that it was important for physicians to be honest with their patients when it comes to things that may influence their outcome of their health care.

What could compel a physician to be less than truthful with their patients?

Tanvir Hussain, M.D., a cardiologist and adjunct professor of bioethics at the Pepperdine University School of Law feels that, though the reasons can be varied, malpractice lawsuits are often at the heart of a doctor’s decision to lie or withhold certain information from their patients. “Fears about professional livelihood are a major driver of the problem,” he says.

Mistakes (and apologies) can cost a doctor their job

When it comes to admitting mistakes, Hussain says doctors need to be careful because, in certain states, apologies can be used against a physician, if they are sued.

Medical students are often taught that lawsuits lurk around every corner, jeopardizing their future in the field.

It may seem like overkill to an outsider, but Hussain’s tenure as a law school teacher has only served to emphasize the constant warnings he received as a medical student. He says that simply being named in a lawsuit can have serious professional implications. A physician’s malpractice rates are sure to increase in response to an accusation. And, even if a doctor is able to clear their name, medical boards will often continue to be suspicious of them, and hospitals can refuse to hire them.

Another reason a doctor may not want to discuss a medical mistake is that it may not have actually been their fault.

Physicians are often tasked with informing a patient of a mistake that was beyond their control. Psychologically, this can be extremely unpleasant for someone who is endeavoring to provide the best possible care for their patients.

Should doctors be telling the truth more often? Continue reading to find out…

Honesty May Not Always Be a Doctor’s Policy originally appeared on

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Are all disclosures really necessary?

Nearly two-fifths of the doctors surveyed in the Harvard study said that they didn’t think that their patients needed to know about a physician’s connections to medical device and pharmaceutical companies. As of right now, there are no rules governing the disclosure of such information to patients.

Hussain feels this figure reflects a current division in the medical community between those who think a doctor’s relationship with outside companies affects patient care, and those who don’t. He points out that there are viable ways to handle such admissions, such as including the information on a patient’s paperwork, but, he thinks that dealing with verbal disclosures could be tricky. “If the alternative is to open every patient introduction with, ‘Before we start, I should tell you this pen is from Pfizer, my coffee mug from Merck, Abbott provided lunch for the office today, and I got a grant from GlaxoSmithKline last month,’ I think anyone (patient or physician) would find that impractical and disconcerting.”

Ultimately, Hussain says that the majority of doctors won’t allow their relationship with a certain company influence their care decisions. However, he admits that some information regarding a doctor’s connections should be made available to patients.

Liar, liar, lab coat on fire

Some doctors are bullies, but a physician who tells a white lie here and there isn’t likely to have a major impact on the quality of care you receive. However, as Hussain points out, a pattern of untruthfulness can indicate that a doctor has a potentially dangerous personality. The physician who is comfortable with lying to those who have entrusted their health and well-being to them may also be more likely to take risks that could prove risky to their patients.

Spotting a fibbing physician can be nearly impossible, so if you’re worried that your doctor may not be telling you the whole truth, Hussain recommends first trying to obtain copies of your medical records. This can make it easier for you to seek a second opinion if you feel that your doctor is withholding important information.

The most important thing, is to try and develop a good rapport with your physician. Many people are scared to talk to their doctor because they view their relationship as one between a superior and a subordinate. Most experts however, say that an open dialogue between doctor and patient is key.

“A person should be more afraid of not speaking to them. They should be more concerned about the things they are not learning, the things that are not being explained to them,” says Kevin Jones, M.D., surgeon and researcher at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. As the author of the book, What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine, Jones is an expert on the barriers that stand in the way of effective doctor-patient dialogue.

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By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor


Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

they are people and all people lie especially when money could be involved. all they are is a mechanic for the body and how many times has your mechanic told you more needed replaced on your car than really did?

Lika S.
Lika P4 years ago

p.s. After 9 or 10 doctors, 5 physical therapists, 5 chiropractors, and 4 pain management specialists over the course of 15 years, and I am no closer to anything. Then, my insurance company decides to deny trigger point injections, and being that I'm already in poverty, paying cash for any medical treatment is out of the question, unless I want to make my new home a park bench.

Lika S.
Lika P4 years ago

Well, on the other hand, too, is that there was once that I went to the ER. I've had pack pain issues for 15 years, and it flairs up on occasion. I'm also prone to respiratory infections. My back was flaring up, and with the bad cough I had, it was making it feel as if a portion of my spine and the ribs attached to that section were being broken with each cough...

What did the ER doctor ask me? "Do you want me to treat the pain, or treat the cough?" I thought that was kind of unprofessional, since in some cases, it DOES overlap.

So the next thing is, if I am diagnosed with cancer, and in the middle of the heart attack, are they going to ask me which one I need treated? Why, so if they treat the heart attack, I could die from cancer, or if they treat the cancer, I can die from a heart attack?

Fortunately, I don't have either cardiac or cancer issues, so I'm lucky that way. But here is another thing... I got referred to a neuro-surgeon for my back problem. Mind you, it's been 15 years, and every year it's worse. Because my MRI came back normal, he had the nerve to tell me that, "you're lucky that you don't need surgery. You're very lucky"... Um, seriously? I'm still at square 1 with having NO idea what is going on and how to deal with it, with no window of opportunity to fix it...

As a result, I am unable to perform 100% of my job duties, and still can't file for disability because there is no diagnosis.

Lying doctors are the least of my problems.

Peggy A.
Peggy A4 years ago

Thanks for sharing things to think about!

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

It becomes obvious pretty quick if you, as the partner and internal input informant, don't match on options and treatments availabale. Final choice is still yours, shop around, don't take the first opinion as gospel ... everyone lies, and this is too important.

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Think I'll go to one of my DVM's!

Philipa Longley
Philipa Longley4 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

I hope not!

Vicki Maitland
Vicki maitland4 years ago

it hard in the care people want to know the truth but can't handle it.I prefer the truth from the start to end. My G.P is a joke struggled with problems on my left side for years,hip and pelvic pain and other stuff and they do nothing cause I am not an loser and don't beg so who wins no-one.

Virginia Belder
Virginia Belder4 years ago