Can Doctors Legally Lie to Patients?
Doctors owe the highest standards of care to their patients. The medical industry controls what a doctor can and cannot do within his or her professional capacity during patient care. Part of a doctor’s professional duty is to be honest with patients. This involves specific responsibilities, such as receiving informed consent from a patient and being forthcoming with diagnoses and treatment options. Lying to a patient could constitute a breach of duty, and grounds for a medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania. Learn more by speaking with a skilled Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim
One gray area that often arises in medical malpractice cases involving a doctor who allegedly told a lie is whether the lie negatively impacted the patient. Many doctors may tell “white lies,” such as telling a new mother her baby will sleep through the night, when in reality the doctor has no way of knowing this for certain. Yet these white lies will not culminate in medical malpractice claims unless the lie is the proximate cause of the patient’s injuries. To have a case against a doctor for lying, you must be able to prove four things:
- The doctor owed you a duty of care. Typically, showing through documentation that a doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the alleged lie is enough to prove that the physician owed you certain duties of care according to medical standards.
- The doctor breached his/her duty of care. A lie could constitute a breach of duty of care if it was serious enough to qualify as a violation of proper patient care. The standard rule is if a reasonable and prudent doctor would not have lied to you in the same situation, the physician is guilty of a breach of duty (or malpractice).
- The act of malpractice caused your injury. One of the most difficult elements of proof in cases involving a lie is showing that it was the physician’s concealment of the truth that caused your damages. The lie must have directly impacted your physical health, recovery prognosis, or emotional wellbeing for you to have a case against the physician.
- You suffered compensable damages as a result. Finally, you need proof that you suffered real, compensable damages because of the physician’s breach of duty. Damages may include physical injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering.
A doctor cannot legally lie to a patient if the act will fulfill these four elements of a medical malpractice claim. If, however, the lie is minor enough not to constitute a breach of duty or harm the patient, the patient may not have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. It may take testimony from an expert medical witness to demonstrate that a physician’s lie was serious enough to qualify as a breach of professional duty.
A Doctor’s Duty to Tell the Truth
A doctor’s lie may be grounds for a lawsuit if the physician violated a criminal statute or ethical code. A common scenario in which a patient may have the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, for example, is if a physician lied about the patient’s condition, prognosis, or treatment. Telling a patient he or she will definitely survive a surgery when the odds of survival are in fact low, for instance, would constitute a breach of duty. This type of lie would infringe upon the patient’s right to informed consent.
Informed consent is a central prerequisite for any type of medical treatment. It is a doctor’s professional duty to ensure he or she receives the patient’s informed consent before providing treatment. Informed consent entitles a patient to information such as a complete diagnosis, the purpose of proposed treatments, the process expected during a treatment, potential treatment alternatives, and the benefits and risks of a treatment. Lying or concealing information in a way that prevents a patient from giving his or her informed consent could constitute medical malpractice, if this lie causes the patient’s injuries.