Doctor Lied Under Oath to Protect Colleague, Now Admits It

Mark Crane


October 04, 2016

In This Article

Why Confess Now?

Aanning said he wrote the article because he's now retired and "they can't hurt me. I can't go to the clinic for any help. All of my doctors are out of town."

He believes "the courtroom is not the arena for adjudication of medical right or wrong. ... There's got to be a different way to help people who have been medically harmed. Looking to the legal system is like mixing oil and water."

Reaction to his story within the medicolegal community was swift, with both supporters and detractors.

Gerald B. Hickson, MD, senior vice president for Quality, Safety and Risk Prevention at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, told Medscape, "Without more clinical details, it's hard to tell whether the care provided was good, bad, or indifferent. So we don't know whether justice prevailed or not."

But Hickson disagrees with the surgeon's view that testimony from a doctor's colleagues cannot be trusted. "My view is that the vast majority of doctors are professional and honest," he said. "But we must recognize that the judicial process is what it is and sometimes people don't tell the truth. The legal process to resolve these disputes doesn't always bring out the best in us. Human beings have a whole host of motivations.

"The surgeon's article unfortunately plays to the cynicism in society," he adds. "I believe there is more willingness in medicine today to do the right thing at the right time," he adds. "When a mistake is made, there should be full disclosure and apology, and an early settlement offer when we've made errors. That will get more of these cases out of the courtroom."

James Lewis Griffith Sr., a malpractice attorney in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, who has represented both physicians and plaintiffs, said Aanning is correct that physicians who testify against colleagues are at great professional risk. "Those physicians are considered traitors, are shunned ... and face a potential loss of income.

"Too many doctors lie to protect their pockets and have no concern for the damage caused to patients by their failure to police the profession," he said. "I have no expectation about this problem being seriously addressed. I know patients who have filed a malpractice claim and then could not get treatment from other physicians in the same county.

"Isn't it strange that physicians can support claims against a religious organization for not exposing a child-abusing member of the clergy but have a totally different standard when it comes to their decision to shield a fellow doctor?" he asks. "They find it totally acceptable to conceal wrongdoing when their referral business could be jeopardized."


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