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Survey: Doctors Fail to Report Errors

This article is more than 11 years old.

Do doctors rat out incompetent colleagues? A new survey suggests nearly half don't, showing some disconnects between what doctors say is the right thing to do, and what they actually do.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital mailed a survey, and a $20 incentive check, to more than 3,000 doctors. About half answered _ and some of the responses renew longstanding questions about the medical profession's ability to regulate itself.

More than 90 percent of those surveyed said physicians should always report an impaired or incompetent colleague, or when they witness a significant medical mistake, to the proper authorities. But 45 percent said they hadn't always done so, researchers reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Other findings:

--A third of surveyed doctors said they would order an unnecessary and expensive MRI scan just to get rid of a complaining patient.

--A quarter said they would refer patients to an imaging center in which they had a financial interest without revealing the conflict of interest, which could violate certain laws.

--Two-thirds of the doctors said they accepted patients who are unable to pay, and three-fourths said they had volunteered without pay at least once in the last three years. Overall, 28 percent of the responding doctors' patients were uninsured or on Medicaid.

--Fewer than 1 percent said they had lied to patients, and 3 percent reported withholding information from patients or family that those people should have known. Eleven percent reported breaching patient confidentiality.

And that $20 check? Twenty-one doctors who didn't answer the survey cashed it anyway.

This program aired on December 4, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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