When we seek treatment for an illness, disease, or injury, we expect the medical professionals who care for us to provide honest and forthright information about our conditions and treatment options. When we are met with anything less, it can be confusing and even potentially dangerous. Does it mean that doctors can legally lie to patients and that we are simply left to sort out fact from fiction on our own? Not quite.
The legality of being dishonest with medical patients is a precarious matter. It is important for doctors and patients alike to build a strong foundation of honest and open communication regarding all medical matters. When a doctor fails to uphold their part in this process and lies to a patient, it could cause irreversible harm that follows them for a lifetime.
What Constitutes a Lie in the Medical Field?
A lie is a misrepresentation of the truth or an intentionally false statement. Not every lie carries the same weight, though. A small white lie made to spare a friend’s feelings in a tricky situation will not necessarily have a profound reach, whereas a lie made by a health care professional regarding a patient’s status or wellbeing might.
When Do Doctors Lie?
Doctors choose to lie to patients for a wide variety of reasons, some of which we may deem relatively harmless. When making a difficult or terminal diagnosis, a doctor may reassure a patient that “Everything will be OK,” in an effort to raise their spirits or give them hope for the future.
Dishonesty is not uncommon in the medical profession. In a study that surveyed 1,891 physicians, one-third reported that they “did not completely agree” that it is always necessary to inform patients of medical errors. The study also found that one-fifth of doctors “did not completely agree” that it is never appropriate for doctors to tell a patient something that is untrue. Another two-fifths of those surveyed did not believe it was necessary to disclose financial ties to drug and medical device manufacturers.
The results of this study have troubling implications—patients in West Virginia might not have access to wholly accurate information needed to make decisions about their care.
When a lie moves beyond the type of white lies we associate with reassurance about a difficult situation; it may move into the realm of medical malpractice. Examples of lies that may constitute medical malpractice include:
- Providing incorrect information about a prognosis
- Omitting information about the risks associated with a surgery, procedure, or treatment
- Failing to communicate a serious medical error
Being dishonest, untruthful, providing inaccurate information, or withholding information from patients all constitute lying. If your doctor has lied to you about a critical part of your health care and you suffered harm as a result, you may have legal grounds to seek compensation via a medical malpractice lawsuit. You can speak to an attorney from DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC about your options for legal action during a free consultation.
When Does a Lie Constitute Medical Malpractice?
Determining when a lie moves past the function of providing comfort and hope and into the territory of medical malpractice can be complicated. There are no hard and fast lines, and it is often up to medical malpractice lawyers to carefully investigate a claim to determine what happened, whether the lie met the level of medical malpractice, and what damages a patient is owed as a result.
The question of whether a lie meets the threshold for medical malpractice might best be answered by first determining whether there was a breach of the standard of care.
What Is a Doctor’s Duty of Care?
Every health care professional has a duty to uphold a standard of care. In the medical world, the standard of care is defined as what any reasonable health care provider would do in the same or similar circumstances.
The victim of a doctor’s wrongful or negligent actions has legal grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit if the following four elements can be met:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship that established a duty of care
- The doctor violated the duty of care
- The patient suffered harm as a result of that violation
- The patient suffered actual damages (such as medical bills or lost wages) as a result of that harm
When filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, attorneys often rely on the expertise of medical experts in the same or similar field as the negligent doctor. These experts can provide key testimony that establishes what the duty of care was and how the doctor violated it.
Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit if My Doctor Lied to Me?
For patients to have any sense of autonomy in regard to their health, they must have access to all relevant and necessary information regarding their care. When doctors choose to lie, withhold the truth, or provide only half-truths to those that they treat, they are denying them full access to their own sense of personal autonomy.
If a doctor’s lie or omission of the truth resulted in an injury, the progression of a treatable disease, preventable harm, or any other type of damage or loss, there could be legal grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. When you meet with an attorney from DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC for your free consultation, be sure to let them know if a doctor’s lie caused you to delay or put off treatment, try alternative methods, or seek unnecessary care.
DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC Hold Doctors Responsible for Their Lies
So, can doctors legally lie to patients? Comforting white lies that intend to minimize psychological harm and boost morale during treatment can be seen as benign when used in a way that still respects a patient’s autonomy. Reassuring a patient that they will be OK during an acute moment of distress is an act of kindness that most of us appreciate.
However, lies that extend beyond this type of social nicety can cause real and lasting harm and should be avoided at all costs.
If you were harmed by a doctor’s lie, know that you are not alone. At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, our attorneys fight to hold these types of negligent health care professionals responsible for the harm they’ve caused. For an opportunity to discuss your case in a no-cost, no-obligation setting, contact our Charleston, WV law office. We’ll schedule you for a free case evaluation at a time that works best for you.