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Arch Intern Med. 1999 Oct 25;159(19):2263-70.

Lying for patients: physician deception of third-party payers.

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Clinical Economics Research Unit, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA.



Some physicians may resort to deception to secure third-party payer approval for patient procedures. Related physician attitudes, including willingness to use deception, are not well understood.


To determine physician willingness to deceive a third-party payer and physician attitudes toward deception of third-party payers.


A cross-sectional mailed survey was used to evaluate physician willingness to use deception in 6 vignettes of varying clinical severity: coronary bypass surgery, arterial revascularization, intravenous pain medication and nutrition, screening mammography, emergent psychiatric referral, and cosmetic rhinoplasty. We evaluated 169 board-certified internists randomly selected from 4 high- and 4 low-managed care penetration metropolitan markets nationwide for willingness to use deception in each vignette.


Physicians were willing to use deception in the coronary bypass surgery (57.7%), arterial revascularization (56.2%), intravenous pain medication and nutrition (47.5%), screening mammography (34.8%), and emergent psychiatric referral (32.1%) vignettes. There was little willingness to use deception for cosmetic rhinoplasty (2.5%). Rates were highest for physicians practicing in predominantly managed care markets, for clinically severe vignettes, and for physicians spending less time in clinical practice. Physician ratings of the justifiability of deception varied by perspective and vignette.


Many physicians sanction the use of deception to secure third-party payers' approval of medically indicated care. Such deception may reflect a tension between the traditional ethic of patient advocacy and the new ethic of cost control that restricts patient and physician choice in the use of limited resources.

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