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Lying To Patients: Yes, No, Or Undecided?

nammi, Nurse, General Practice, 08:29PM Feb 14, 2019

Diane M. Goodman

If you saw the statistics on Medscape, Nurses are less inclined to lie to patients than Physicians about a medical error, 4% to 12%, respectively.

Additionally, 18% of Physicians and 13% of Nurses/APRN's said they were unsure if they would lie about a medical error.

But, come on, we understand that nurses do lie to patients during the course of their work. It's necessary to survive at the bedside, or in a teaching situation. We just don't CALL it lying because our patients deserve to feel comfortable and supported when receiving care.

Suppose we are teaching a newbie to insert IV's. The patient may ask (fearfully) of the nurse we are precepting "have you done this before?". While honesty may be the best policy, it would serve no purpose to be brutally forthright in this situation. I answer "oh, we can't count how many times he/she has performed this procedure!"

The answer is usually met with laughs, grins, relieved sighs, and (almost always) success! Is it a lie? Not really. Prevarication? Absolutely!

Suppose another nurse needs assist with a new piece of equipment? I may respond by saying we always work in teams, as two heads are better than one in reviewing equipment set up. Does the patient need to know the nurse has never seen the equipment in action before? Of course not! Am I lying to the patient? Possibly bending the truth a bit. But the process is safer, and the equipment is set up appropriately, which is the most important part of the equation.

What about the patient who asks if physiological tests have returned, but you are not free to share the news until the physician arrives? Should you tell the patient results are back? It depends on your comfort level. I may tell the patient the physician has asked to discuss results alone with them, and that is their specific routine. What I will do is avoid saying anything that might alarm the patient or cause them to believe bad news is headed their way, especially if I know that is the case.

A full 10% of nurses said they had lied on behalf of patients to get treatment approval or reimbursement, as opposed to 26% of Physicians. Yet, similar to my peers, I have placed patient inhalers and eye drops into the bags of patients when they were discharged, even though hospital policy might state they should be discarded. Should our percentages have been higher...or did those quiet acts of rebellion against policy not count?

Whatever the statistics say about honesty, I would say the biggest "lie" I have ever told a patient is to have hope, that hope is not quantifiable and not scientifically measured. Hope is life and breath and unequivocably available when all else is gone. It exists in defiance of those who refuse to give it space. I remain in awe of its power, even after decades in healthcare. I am a firm believer in hope, always.

Want to know more about specific instances and percentages when Nurses/Physicians feel it might be OK to lie?

Read; Medscape: "Physicians, Nurses Draw Different Lines for When Lying Is OK.", Frellick, M., January 2019.

Poll: I believe it is reasonable to bend the truth to keep patients comfortable, safe, reassured e.g. the scenarios above. Yes, I could understand utilizing the scenarios as written.|No, it is never appropriate to lie.|I could understand comforting very nervous patients, but not as a routine.|I agree, "Lying" should not become a routine, each case is unique.|Don't deal directly with patients in my occupation|
About This Blog

Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN, is an acute care nurse practitioner who has worked in many different capacities in healthcare. With more than 30 years of experience in critical care and medical/surgical nursing, she has gained an immense amount of insight into the human and patient experience and an unrelenting passion for the practice of nursing. Her sense of humor and ready wit have assisted her in writing about nursing topics in multiple venues. She is currently certified in neurology, gerontology, critical care, and pain management Diane is a full-time nurse educator for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois and she also works as needed as an acute care nurse practitioner for a busy pulmonology practice.

She lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with her husband and several furry "children" (Chihuahuas), who are gracious enough to allow her the time to reflect and write.

Disclosure: Diane M Goodman, APRN, BC, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.Poll: Do you find it surprising that 70% of Moms want to "make the most" of Halloween in spite of rising coronavirus cases? Yes, absolutely.|No, for many Halloween is about children.|This may be an education issue about the risk for children.|This may represent fatigue related to coronavirus restrictions.|No strong opinion, retired, etc.|


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