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Survey from Massachusetts General confirms doctors' reluctance to police profession

   A recent survey from Mass General, one of the nation's most respected health institutions, shed some light on a topic that people in the legal and medical professions already understood:  Doctors don't wish to police their own profession.  The survey was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

   The researchers reported a "disturbing reluctance" to report incompetent doctors or serious mistakes.  While the vast majority of 1600 doctors who were consulted acknowledged that they owe a duty to report such matters, nearly half who had directly encountered such situations in the past three years confirmed that they had not made any report.  Our society is replete with situations where co-workers and companions refuse to "rat out" their peers, and doctors are no exception. 

       Sadly, in liability situations where a victim cannot have a "day in court" without a comparable expert's support, this reluctance can mean some tragedies are uncompensated and other victims must rely upon "professional witnesses" with diminshed credibility.  A decade-old Harvard study confirmed that about 7 out of 8 malpractice events are never even recognized by the victim or his family--or if recognized, no claim is made.

      Other disturbing findings included the fact that a large majority of physicians reported that they would refer patients to an imaging facility in which they had invested--a practice considered unethical in the legal profession due to the potential conflict of interest--and one-quarter of respondents said they would not disclose their financial conflict of interest to patients.  That, also, would be considered an ethical violation among lawyers.

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