Doctors Have Feelings, Too

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Doctors should be aware of emotions that may lead them to be less than honest with patients or reluctant to admit errors.


Last month, an article in the journal Health Affairs made headlines in the news media — “Physicians Are Not Always Open or Honest with Patients.” A vast majority of the nearly 2,000 doctors surveyed agreed that physicians should be fully open and honest in all their communications with patients, as the Charter on Medical Professionalism requires, but more than one in 10 had specifically told a patient something that was not true within the past year. Almost one in five had not revealed a medical error. More than half had framed a prognosis in a more positive light than was warranted.


The authors expressed concern that doctors were not fully living up to the charter; patients worried that they couldn’t trust what their doctors said. I also found the data disturbing, but for different reasons. I don’t think that doctors are generally a dishonest bunch. Yes, there are a few utter miscreants out there, and many more who could use a tune-up on their communication skills. But I suspect that the dishonesty that is being uncovered in a study such as this — and frankly, I was amazed that the number of less-than-truthful instances was so low — reveals more about the diagnosis of being human than anything else.


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