WEDNESDAY, Feb. 8, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many doctors may be less than honest with their patients, a new survey finds.

Despite the fact that there are widely accepted standards in the medical profession that state physicians should be straightforward with their patients, particularly when discussing a prognosis, the survey found that many doctors gave overly optimistic predictions to their patients. When it came to admitting medical mistakes or disclosing financial ties to drug companies, many said they have withheld such information.

The survey, conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and published in the February issue of Health Affairs, involved almost 1,900 doctors. Some troubling trends emerged in the results: one in 10 doctors said he or she had actually lied to a patient in the previous year; one-third of those surveyed did not think they should disclose serious medical errors to their patients; and almost two-fifths did not think it necessary to be open about their financial connections to drug and medical device companies.

Study author Dr. Lisa Iezzoni said the findings suggest that the needs and desires of patients may not always be the first concern of doctors.

"Patients who do not get the full story might not be able to make an informed choice about the best course of action for their care," Iezzoni, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General, said in a journal news release. "Until all physicians take a frank and open approach to communication, it will be very difficult to enact patient-centered care more broadly."

Although most of the physicians surveyed thought doctors should be completely forthcoming with patients about the risks and benefits of treatment, many admitted they did not always follow that standard when dealing with their patients.

Interestingly, women and minority doctors were more likely than white male doctors to say they were honest with their patients. The researchers speculated that this might be because women and minority doctors have entered a profession that has been dominated by white males for decades, and so they feel more compelled to follow professional standards of conduct to the letter.

When it came to lying, general surgeons were the most likely to say they had lied to a patient in the previous year, although they also were more likely to say there is a need to promptly inform patients of any medical errors or mistakes.

More information

For more on medical ethics, visit the American Medical Association.

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