How truthful are we with our physicians? A JAMA Network Open study shows that between 60 and 80% of patients lie to their doctors. Most healthcare providers are aware that their patients withhold certain facts, but it shocked many to discover that most patients go beyond that and deliberately lie to their physicians. Some wish to avoid judgment, while others are trying to change their diagnosis. Most patients are not equipped to know which lies are "harmless" and which could seriously affect their health.
One of the most common lies doctors encounter is the claim that their patient doesn’t "do drugs." Depending on the drug, illicit use is, on its own, already dangerous. Adding a prescription with potential interactions is a recipe for disaster. Patients tend to lie about their drug use because they are afraid of criminal charges or judgment. However, patient-doctor confidentiality protects every patient. Doctors cannot alert law enforcement, except in very specific and rare circumstances.
Everything we eat affects our bodies and not always for the better. Diet is a huge part of health, but it’s also one of the things patients lie about most. People may fear that their doctor will shame them for their diet. Some want praise for eating healthy, and others may not think their diet is unhealthy. However, when a physician asks a patient if they regularly eat saturated fats or processed sugars, he or she may be looking for underlying causes of an issue. If they don’t find one, they may prescribe unnecessary medication. Lying about diet could also prolong the diagnostic process, preventing quick treatment and solutions.
Another common "white lie" patients regularly tell is how frequently they smoke. Most people are aware of the health issues that stem from smoking, and they’re simply trying to avoid a lecture. However, because smoking breaks down the protective systems that defend the body from infections, if a physician knows her patient is a heavy smoker, she will more aggressively manage conditions like bronchitis. Without this advanced treatment, the condition becomes significantly more dangerous. Smoking also increases the risk of stroke, lung disease, and heart disease, as well as many other issues that a healthcare provider can help manage or prevent -- but only if they know to look for it.
Few physicians have an issue with patients having a drink or two a day. Yet many patients still insist on lying to their doctors about drinking alcohol. As with many lies, this is one that patients tell to avoid a lecture. Excessive alcohol consumption is extremely dangerous and is linked to more than 200 health conditions and diseases. Doctors need to know how much their patients drink to better manage their overall health. Plus, physicians can usually discover the truth, so lying only postpones effective treatments.
A significant number of patients tend to either downplay or exaggerate their symptoms. Athletes, in particular, will lie about their injuries to get back to playing. However, this often worsens their injuries or causes new ones. Those who exaggerate symptoms are usually looking to gain something, such as a prescription for pain medications or sympathy. Regardless of the reason, lying about symptoms is serious. It could delay effective solutions or lead to unnecessary and expensive testing.
Occasionally, patients will say that they feel perfectly fine while taking medications or after treatment, despite having side effects. Alternatively, a person has symptoms but keeps them hidden. These are complex issues because there are many reasons why a patient might lie about them. Some people would rather not face their condition. Others may believe that it’s perfectly natural to have side effects. This can lead to physicians making incorrect treatment decisions. A good rule of thumb is that if a person senses that something is wrong, a doctor probably needs to know.
Patients may, at times, disagree with their doctor’s method of treatment. They may even purposefully not take prescription medications because of these feelings. Other people forget about their medication and skip doses. A physician operates on available information. If a patient never tells a doctor that they’re not taking their medication, the doctor will likely assume the medication isn’t working. This can cause countless issues, including the administration of unnecessarily powerful prescriptions, additional testing, and potentially risky treatment options.
For most communities, sex is a touchy subject, and this often extends to sexual and genital health. Patients may feel embarrassed or fear negative reactions from their doctor, family, or partners. As such, some lie about their sexual history, but there are serious, life-long consequences to falsifying such information. Sexually transmitted diseases range from irritating to deadly, but many are treatable. Conditions such as low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or a missed period may have dangerous underlying causes like Parkinson’s disease. Doctors require as much information as possible to make an informed diagnosis.
In recent years, there has been a significant rise in people taking their health in their own hands. May turn to holistic and alternative medicine to treat their issues or take supplements that contain a variety of questionable ingredients; others rely on alternative therapies without speaking to their physicians. When doctors ask about these treatments, many people leave out the whole truth. It is difficult for physicians to know what is in most supplements without an official ingredient list, but many lack regulation. Supplements and other "natural" treatments can adversely affect medications a doctor prescribes. The result could even be deadly.
Aging is a scary process for many people. Among the various changes that occur, a significant number of people begin to lose their hearing and sight. Many ear, nose, and throat doctors find that patients tend to downplay their level of hearing loss. A patient may be trying to avoid the cost of a hearing aid, or they may fear aging. Recent research has discovered links between hearing loss and issues such as depression, social isolation, and Alzheimer’s disease. Receiving early treatment for hearing loss can help postpone dementia and other conditions, while letting the patient remain active in their communities.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.