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Doctors Not Always Giving Patients All Their Options

Doctor-patient communication is one of the biggest contributors to medical malpractice and too little communication is, unfortunately, very common. For example, medical malpractice can occur when medical professionals don't gather enough information to properly diagnose an illness. There can also be problems when doctors don't fully explain information to their patients, failing to give patients the options they need to make informed decisions about their medical care.

According to a new research study by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, doctors make this latter mistake frequently - at least for some surgical procedures.

The study looked at one particular procedure: a stent procedure involved in coronary disease. The patients involved in the study were on Medicare. Only 10 percent of the patients who received the stent procedure said they were informed of possible alternatives to the procedure, even though alternatives existed. Furthermore, only 19 percent of the study participants reported that they spoke with their doctors about the "pros and cons" of the procedure.

The study also looked at patients who underwent prostate surgery. Sixty-four percent of prostate surgery patients said they discussed surgery alternatives with their doctors and 63 percent discussed the pros and cons of the surgery. While these numbers are much better than those for the stent procedure, they are still not at 100 percent.

Why the discrepancy? According to some medical professionals, it is often necessary to put a stent in during an angiogram, where the blockage is often diagnosed. Yet, why don't doctors discuss the possibility of putting a stent in before the angiogram?

"People should know what their options are . . . the core of a good decision-making process is to know what the options are," said one of the study's authors, Floyd J. Fowler Jr.

Failing to discuss the options available to a patient is unethical, but it does not always amount to medical malpractice. If, however, the communication problems contributed to an injury caused by a medical professional, you may be able to bring a lawsuit for medical malpractice.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Health Blog, "Surgical Patients Not Getting Information on Alternatives," Katherine Hobson, Mar. 2, 2012.

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