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Medical Malpractice Study: Doctors Have our Trust, but Should They?

Updated on: 11/13/2019

As statistics have shown, medical malpractice is a risk that is all too real for the average American citizen – approximately 180,000 Medicare patients die each year because of healthcare gone awry, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Despite these troubling facts, a 2010 national telephone survey headed by Rasmussen Reports, a media company specializing in collecting public opinion information, revealed that 79 percent of Americans say they trust their doctor.

But do these well-compensated healthcare providers actually deserve our trust?

According to a 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one in five hospital patients in the United States suffered harm during their stay and 40 percent of those incidents could have been avoided. These tragic incidents take serious financial, emotional and physical tolls on families and loved ones of the victims.

Some might argue that these are honest mistakes and simply the result of human error, however, and that they are not a direct betrayal of patients’ trust.

Oh, but there’s more.

White Lies Make Green for Doctors

The Charter on Medical Professionalism, which is endorsed by over 100 professional groups worldwide, “requires openness and honesty in physicians’ communication with patients.”

A separate study published in Health Affairs used data from a survey of nearly 1,900 physicians across the United States to determine how well they followed the Charter’s principles. In the study, researchers found that provider-patient transparency is not much of a priority in the healthcare industry.

According to the study, one-third of physicians did not completely agree with disclosing serious medical errors to patients. Also, one-fifth did not agree that physicians should never tell a patient something that was not true – ten percent of respondents admitted to telling patients something untrue in the past year – and 40 percent believed that they should hide their financial relationships with medical drug and equipment companies.

Perhaps the most disturbing statistic of them all, though it is a difficult list to pick from, is the fact that one-third of those surveyed would rather keep quiet about medical errors for fear of a personal injury lawsuit.

Medical Malpractice: Taking a Toll

The emotional and financial burden that medical malpractice takes, both on an individual level and as a country, is drastic. In another report, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that almost 250,000 of deaths from 1979 to 2006 occurred in a hospital setting due to medication errors.

The financial toll of adverse drug reactions on our society is almost as traumatic as the emotional toll. Each year, the cost of adverse drug reactions to our society exceeds $136 billion – a greater toll than the annual total cost of cardiovascular or diabetic care.

In total, these studies give us a realistic perspective of our risk of falling victim to medical malpractice, as well as the likelihood that the person directing our care will be held accountable for their actions; we now know that we can expect a one-in-four chance of being injured if we are admitted to a hospital, and that if we are the victim of medical error, one-in-three doctors will not own up to their mistakes.

Do you trust your physician? Do you think that these findings paint an accurate picture of the risks of medical malpractice and the apparent violation of trust between patient and physician? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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