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Are You Lying to Your Doctor?

Lying to your doctor could have negative consequences for your healthcare and your health. But it is not unusual. Many people fib to their physicians.

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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