Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Is it all right for doctors to lie ?
In this day and age of patient empowerment, the simple answer to this question is - No ! Doctors have a moral obligation to tell the truth to their patients - and they should be frank and forthright, even when providing bad news.
Reality is of course far more complex ! Sometimes telling the truth may not be in the patient's best interests, but it's often much safer and easier for doctors to tell the unvarnished truth, if they want to protect themselves from lawsuits ! Most thoughtless doctors will adopt this approach, so as to avoid problems for themselves and to save them the time and trouble of having to think about what to tell the patient and how to do so.
Good doctors, on the other hand, understand that they have an obligation and duty which is far more complex. They will tell the truth, but in such a way that the patient they are talking to will find this palatable.
The truth is that there are many ways of telling the truth and kind doctors will adapt their style according to their patient's needs . It's an integral part of the doctor's role to never take away a patient's hope - and all doctors know that often their ability to provide a prognosis is flawed and unreliable. It never hurts to be kind and good doctors will tailor the way they tell the truth to their patients and the family members.
There is no simple formula which can be applied mindlessly to all situations. This is a skill which needs to be learned the hard way - through trial and error, and time is the best teacher. A thoughtful doctor learns with experience, and how a doctor tells the patient an unpleasant truth is one of the major differences between a good doctor and a bad doctor !