a male doctor talking to a female patient, Pradaxa, lying to your doctor

Are you lying to your doctor? Or do you answer all your doctor’s questions truthfully? If you do, you are unusual.

Why You Might Be Lying to Your Doctor:

A new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of patients are not always honest when answering questions from their physician (JAMA Network Open, Nov. 30, 2018). Investigators surveyed over 2,000 middle aged people and 2,500 older patients. The participants were offered seven hypothetical scenarios and asked if something like this had happened to them, how they responded and why.

The researchers report that younger women were least likely to be truthful about important medical information. Many volunteers admitted to fibbing about diet and exercise. They worried that the doctor would think less of them or scold them if they told the truth. Others were embarrassed to admit that they disagreed with a prescription or recommendation.

Why Lying to Your Doctor Could Be a Problem:

If doctors don’t know what a patient is doing or NOT doing, it could impact treatment outcomes. The authors suggest that physicians should be trained to help patients feel more comfortable about telling the truth.

How the Medical System Stresses the Doctor-Patient Relationship:

Doctors go into medicine because they want to help people. They put in extraordinarily long hours during their training that no other profession is expected to endure.

Caring and compassionate physicians are challenged these days by a medical system that is badly broken. Health care administrators frequently limit the amount of time a doctor can spend with a patient. Insurance companies may also restrict treatments or challenge doctors’ judgment.

Patients Bringing the Internet into the Consultation:

With these difficulties, it’s no wonder that many doctors dread having to answer questions from patients who have consulted Dr. Google. Patients who bring their own ideas about a diagnosis or treatment to the visit can be perceived as challenging.

Many physicians don’t like to hear about drug side effects, either. They don’t like being reminded that something they prescribed might have caused harm.

Readers Share Their Responses:

One reader shared the following doctor-patient interaction:

“My husband’s a type 2 diabetic. Before going on insulin, he tried some new oral medicines, but he reacted badly to them. The endocrinologist he was seeing just paid attention to his blood sugar number, at the high end of ‘acceptable,’ and didn’t care that the drugs blew up his weight rapidly to where it peaked at 320 pounds.

“He’d been a bit too heavy before the drugs, but when he started the medicines, his weight began to climb, and his health began to fail. She said he was ‘just an overeater’ and if he didn’t lose weight she’d drop him as a patient.

“He asked her if he could try to control his blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure through diet and exercise alone. She told him she didn’t think he had enough self-control. Finally, he snapped.

“At his final appointment with her, she and he had a shouting match during which she called him names in a voice they heard at the reception station. ‘Fat,’ ‘whiny,’ ‘argumentative’ and ‘non-compliant.’ She didn’t know him at all as a person, didn’t remember him from visit to visit and barely read his file. He’d gotten to where he was precisely because he was taking the drugs she prescribed and making every effort to be compliant. He’s a very intelligent and diligent man, hard-working with a lot of self-control. He is NOT a whiner.

“She ‘fired’ him as a patient and he ‘fired’ her as a doctor. Now he has a new doctor, is on a low dose of insulin, has lost all the weight he’d packed on and is exercising regularly. He has energy and good health and enjoys life again. He may be able to control his condition with diet and exercise alone in the future, with his doctor’s help.

“If we were to run into his former endocrinologist she’d no doubt still see him as a ‘problem patient’ because he dared to stand up to her to save himself.”

This is not the first time we have heard about a doctor-patient relationship that went off the tracks. Even though a physician may find a patient annoying, there is no excuse for shouting or name-calling.

Patients know that doctors have valuable education and experience to contribute. Doctors also need to acknowledge the role that patients must play in their own care. If a medication causes uncomfortable side effects, a physician should not dismiss them as unimportant.

Like all human relationships, doctors and patients do best when there is mutual respect and shared responsibility.

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  1. Robert
    New York

    I’ve had multiple heart attacks, and at every visit I’m asked if I’ve had any chest pain. The first few times I reported chest pain it was entirely ignored by the doctor or attributed to something else. At this point I know what angina feels like, and it doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve ever felt. I only reported it as an honest answer to his question. I was not particularly concerned about it. Since it’s obvious the doctor doesn’t really want to know, I always answer no to that question now, regardless of whether I have or not. Apparently they ask that question in the same way that you would ask someone else “how are you?” It’s a polite question that you don’t really want an honest answer to. Such is the modern medical system.

  2. Judith

    FYI, if your doctor says that your blood pressure is getting too high and you disagree with him, please know that there is a blood pressure monitor on the market that sync’s with your smart phone. This way you can track your blood pressure readings over an extended period of time. That is what I did when my PCP started to make muttering sounds about my blood pressure numbers creeping up. I kept track of the readings for the 30 day period before my next appointment and showed him the numbers recorded on my smart phone. He agreed that the numbers did not warrant taking medication. He and I pinned down the increase in my blood pressure to the fact that I was in pain at the appointment where my blood pressure reading had increased from an on-going problem with my left leg. Lucky for me, he was willing to listen to me and I was able to prove that the increase in my blood pressure was not permanent. It might be to one’s benefit to invest in one of these sync-able blood pressure monitors as it provides a record of one’s blood pressure for a longer period of time. And as a plus, he was impressed that I was able to download the readings from the monitor to my phone. :)

  3. Anon

    I have lied to my doctor in the past because I’ve heard there is a medical equivalent to your credit score (a repository where medical information about you is kept, and is accessible to entities like insurance companies who can use it against you).

    It infuriates me that I feel I have to game the system I am paying an inordinate amount for, to get an approximation of the care I need … that I cannot be candid with my physician so they can fully comprehend my entire health picture.

    I trust my doctor personally.

    But they have to record what I tell in my *file*, and I’m scared I’ll be screwed with the disclosure.

    So: Nope. No thanks. I’ll just keep some secrets, thanks.

    • Nyta

      I found the input from Anon very interesting, often thought to withhold info from the doctor ( like smoking 26 years ago) in order to avoid future penalties or denials from the insurance company.

  4. Anne

    Talking with friends about this, the universal thing that we do not disclose to our doctors is the actual amount of alcohol we consume. None of us are alcoholics by any means.

    When asked by our doctors whether we consume alcohol, we either lie and say none, or we report substantially less than what we actually drink.

    It’s very easy to Google reputable medical websites that tell us what are acceptable numbers of drinks per week for men and women. So we stay well within those limits.

    Why omit the whole truth? Because alcohol is something we enjoy and would never give up, no matter what our doctors say. We like and trust our doctors but would never ever risk being “fired” as patients.

  5. Terrie
    Boston ma

    I find that most doctors have a very hard time seeing past your weight. You tend to get treated rudely and as the cause of all your problems. If you would only lose weight all your medical issues would go away. It doesn’t work like that and obesity is often and effect of T2. Your cells do not work the same way as someone elses. Can you control it? Somewhat and to a degree. All things are not totally in your control.

  6. Ellen Childress
    Dallas, Texas

    I have not found a doctor here in Dallas that I can work with in the 13 years we have lived here. I am still searching. Two doctors were angry because I refuse to do a colonoscopy. I have post-cholestectomy syndrome with chronic severe diarrhea and I flatfootedly will not take the prep for a colonoscopy. In addition to that, of five friends in my life, three of them had to have emergency surgery after having a colonoscopy and two others died.

    Two other doctors tried to refuse to let me have a prescription for clonidine and lied to me about their reasons. I have taken clonidine and Norvasc ( brand name only ) for 20 years to control blood pressure that no one could find a way to control until those two meds were prescribed. I understand that clonidine is a nasty little drug, but I have had no problem with it and I am careful with its use. If I get older and develop dementia , then I probably will have to be given something else, but right now, I am happy with this medication. I have an undiagnosed neuro-muscular problem that doctors still puzzle over. Some call it MS. I just try to live with it as comfortably as I can . . . . . double vision,urinary incontinence occasionally, lack of balance, etc.

    My current doctor is leaving her practice and going to the medical school as an instructor. So I am currently looking again for a doctor. She was okay but she got mad at me because I had to cancel a scan due to my husband not being able to take me on the appointed day.

    I don’t understand what is wrong here in Dallas. Three of the best, most knowledgeable and caring physicians I have ever had were in the small towns where we lived before coming home to Dallas. Here I have not found one who has those qualities, who will respect the knowledge I have both of medicine and my own body and condition, and who understand what an “empowered patient” really is and expects. I think they are being run by the insurance companies and their computers and refuse to take the time to establish any kind of real relationship with a patient.

  7. Mary
    South Carolina

    I also left my previous doctor. She was constantly insulting me and “stating the obvious” like “You are way too fat”. I KNEW I was fat. What I needed from her was encouragement and help. Every time I saw her she threatened me by reminding me that my weight/blood sugar/blood pressure/cholesterol was going to kill me. She even asked me (with my 12 year old daughter in the room) if I wanted to live to see my grandchildren!! Which was an even more horrible thing to say because she had apparently “forgot” that my only child- this 12 year old had a brain tumor and was in all likelihood not going to be having children.
    I now have a new doctor who is down-to-earth and caring and supportive. I have lost weight and all other problems have resolved themselves with diet and exercise changes.

  8. SJ

    Unfortunately, today’s Doctors have been schooled basically by the pharmaceutical industry. They don’t touch your wrist to take your pulse, it is some gadget that does that. So they don’t know if your pulse is strong, weak or thready. It all makes a difference. All they know how to do is prescribe drugs, never mind the side effects or how that medication changes your life. It is very sad. There is no true healing- just managing symptoms. ☹️🤔

  9. Steve
    Abingdon, Maryland

    Sixteen years ago a cardiologist told me I should take Lipitor. I said no even way back then because of concern over side effects. I presented to him a different therapeutic approach, and he said that would work. I asked, why didn’t you tell me this first? He said, most people won’t make the effort so I just give them the pill.

    Recently, my primary care doctor told me my blood pressure was elevated on three separate visits. I am 66 years old and have been monitoring and recording my BP for 5 years. I shared this with him and said I understand your view but my data says otherwise. Obviously irritated with my response he pointed at his iPad and said, “Here’s the evidence.” He wanted to win. That obviously changed my relationship with him.

    For too many years the patient has been subordinate and not engaged in his/her care. You did what the doctor said. And now, we can be better informed, ask better questions. But we are doing so in an environment that does not provide the time for discussion. The end result is the patient continues to struggle in the doctor-patient relationship.

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