Survey Reveals a Growing Number of Physicians Willing to Hide Mistakes
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 10:48 AM

News Bite:  In a recent survey nearly one-quarter of physicians deemed it acceptable to hide clinical mistakes from patients.  Also, 25% of physicians said that they should not be required to get flu shots, and were nearly evenly split on whether they should be required to undergo random testing for drug abuse.

Seven percent of physicians say it’s acceptable to hide a clinical mistake that harms a patient, while another 14% leave the door open, saying "It depends," according to the Medscape Ethics Report 2016.  That is close to a quarter of physicians deeming it acceptable to not disclose their clinical mistakes.

A clear majority of surveyed physicians — 78% — said that it is never okay to cover up or avoid revealing such an error. However, the percentage who answered that way is down from 91% in 2014 and almost 95% in 2010.

The greater willingness of physicians to hide mistakes runs counter to a trend among hospitals to fess up. A number of hospitals in recent years have begun to voluntarily report medical mishaps to patients, apologize for them, and offer compensation in an effort to keep malpractice out of the court system. Some states have passed so-called “disclose, apologize, and offer" laws to give clinicians a process for settling with injured patients. 

A bioethicist said the increase in the percentage of physicians who’d hide a mistake with harmful consequences is “surprising and disturbing,” especially when other sectors of the healthcare world are striving for greater transparency. “The shift is in the wrong direction."

The survey showed where physicians stood on a wide variety of ethical issues. For example:

  • Seventy-eight percent said they would not withhold treatments or tests to avoid penalties for exceeding their organization's patient-care budget.

  • Physicians were evenly split on whether they should be randomly tested for drug and alcohol abuse — 41% for, and 42% against.

  • Twenty-five percent of physicians said they should not be required to get flu shots, with some championing freedom of choice.

  • Fifty-one percent said they would caution a patient from having a procedure performed by a colleague of questionable ability. Fifteen percent said no, and 34% fell back on "It depends."

  • Thirty-eight percent said they would drop a poorly paying insurer even at the cost of losing some long-time patients with that coverage. That's down from 57% in 2010. However, the percentage of physicians in the murky “It depends" camp has grown from 17% to 26%.

The complete results of the 2016 ethics survey are available here.