Results of Survey of Practicing Doctors Renew Doubts Regarding the Medical Profession’s Ability to Regulate Itself

A survey of a national random sample of practicing doctors found that nearly half of all U.S. doctors fail to report incompetent or unethical colleagues, even though they agree that such mistakes should be reported. More specifically, while 96% of respondents said doctors should always report impaired or incompetent colleagues, only 55% of those with direct personal knowledge of such doctors in the past three years said they always did so. And while 93% of respondents said doctors should always alert authorities when they observe serious medical errors, only 54% of those who had such information in the past three years said they always did so.

40 percent of the doctors said they knew of a serious medical error in their hospital group or practice but 31 percent admitted they had done nothing about it at least once. The findings appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital mailed a survey, and a $20 incentive check, to 3,504 practicing doctors between November 2003 and June 2004. They received responses from 1,662. The specialties surveyed were cardiologists, family practitioners, anesthesiologists, surgeons, internists and pediatricians.

Of the specialties surveyed, cardiologists were the least likely to say they always reported direct knowledge of a serious medical error. And, by just 0.8%, cardiologists were second only to family practitioners in being least likely to report an impaired or incompetent doctor.

In 2000, the U.S. Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 people die every year because of medical errors in hospitals alone. Doctors are also surprisingly willing to order unnecessary — and often expensive — tests such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scans. One third said they would give in to a patient who demanded an MRI because of back pain that was likely to go away on its own. A quarter of the doctors who responded 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.

Regarding the $20 incentive check that accompanied the survey, twenty-one doctors who didn’t answer the survey cashed it anyway. The results of the survey renew doubts regarding the medical profession’s ability to regulate itself. Whether the New York State disciplinary process will take stronger action than in the past may be seen in the results of a hearing to be held tomorrow by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct regarding Dr. Martin Ehrenberg.

Dr. Ehrenberg allegedly performed unnecessary laser eye surgeries on six patients, and faces 32 charges of medical misconduct, including gross negligence. Levine & Slavit, with offices in New York City and on Long Island, has 50 years of experience handling medical malpractice cases for clients in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and the metropolitan area. If you would like more information, you are invited to watch our videos including “New York Medical Malpractice Attorneys”, “Proving Liability in Malpractice Cases” and “Experienced New York Dental Malpractice Attorneys”.

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