"We order too much, (practice) too much defensive medicine, keep patients in hospitals too long," Douglas Garland, MD told HealthLeaders Media. He is medical director of the MemorialCare Joint Replacement Center, part of the 1,006-bed MemorialCare Health System in Long Beach, CA.
Results of a recent survey published in Health Affairs revealed that as many as 20% of physicians won't tell patients about errors because of doctors' fear of malpractice litigation. As many as 55% exaggerated or failed to tell patients something about their health because, in part, the physicians didn't want to upset their patients. At least 1 in 10 physicians told patients something untrue in the past year.
"When we noted that 20% of physicians said in the last year they had not fully disclosed an error or a mistake to a patient because they were afraid of a lawsuit, it certainly could have been any error they were referring to," Lisa I. Iezzoni, MD, M.Sc, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital told HealthLeaders Media.
"We don't know from the survey results; we didn't ask that. But you can imagine the errors span a continuum of severity. Some errors may have caused minor discomfort or no discomfort whatsoever. Other errors can be life-threatening. It's hard to know exactly what that 20% remembered; they weren't asked that question," she says.
While physicians' statements are not always linked to malpractice concerns, doctors are aware that the possibility of litigation is always a factor. Indeed, more than 60% of physicians aged 55 and older have been sued at least once, according to the American Medical Association.