Why does it matter?
We all know that the significance of being honest in any relationship, whether it’s with your significant other, family members, boss or co-workers. However, the person you should definitely always be honest with is your doctor. Why is this so important?
There’s no question that we all want to present the best version of ourselves to the world, so we have a tendency to hide some of our bad habits from our family and friends. However, when speaking to your doctor, you shouldn’t be dishonest. The doctor-patient relationship has a place of extreme importance in healthcare. It should be a collaboration based on mutual trust and respect. Unfortunately, many patients aren’t truthful with their doctor. According to the results of a survey that was released within the last month and reported by the American Psychological Association (APA), many people admit to lying to their doctors. The survey was comprised of two groups, one was made up of 2,013 US adults (average age 36) and other was a group of 2,685 older adults (average age 61). It found that 81.1% of the first group admitted to having withheld medically relevant information from their healthcare providers; whereas, in the second group was only 61.4%. The survey discovered that the most common type of information withheld is when the patient disagrees with their providers care recommendations, but doesn’t tell them. Of the first group, 45.7% said that they have done this and 31.4% of the second group reported doing this. Other common types of information that is withheld includes not understanding instructions, having an unhealthy diet, not taking medication as instructed and not exercising. The main reason why the survey participants withheld the information was because they didn’t want to be lectured or judged by their doctor. Some other reasons why a person doesn’t share or lies about information are being afraid that the answer to their problem will be too much for them to handle or they’re simply embarrassed. Others state they feel intimidated by their doctors. Also, people are less likely to share information about issues that they think may stigmatize them or anything that is considered a social taboo. In addition, some people lie in order to keep something out of their medical records or out of the hands of their insurance company.
Even though we want to make a good impression, it’s hard to feel like you are doing so when you’re sitting on an exam table in a flimsy gown. There’s definitely something unnerving about entering the healthcare process and we often feel powerless because of it. While it may seem like all of your doctor’s questions are an invasion of your privacy, it’s not aimed at that. Your doctor isn’t the judge and jury about your life choices, but are there to help, guide and heal you. So, if you aren’t being totally honest about your bad habits, your doctor could be missing some vital information that could lead them to misinterpret symptoms, overlook warning signs and result in flawed diagnoses and treatments. This could potentially endanger your health, or even your life. This is why sharing all the details about your life and being truthful when you do is essential. There are two important considerations to keep in mind. Anything that you share with your doctor stays between you and them. Also, doctors have heard and seen virtually everything from their patients, so anything that you say will not be shocking to them.
Doctors know that at least some of the time, their patients will likely overstate, understate, embellish, omit or otherwise stray from the truth when reporting about their health and habits. Sadly, most doctors have come to expect that their patients are lying to them. In fact, this is one of the basics doctors learn in medical school. When it comes to unhealthy habits, most doctors are taught to double whatever the patient says. For instance, if a patient states that they have two alcoholic drinks every Friday night, most doctors will automatically assume that the patient is having at least four or that it is more than just Friday night drinking. So, while it’s easy to downplay the amount of alcohol you consume, you shouldn’t. The same thing happens when you deny that you smoke or falsely claiming to have quit smoking, but haven’t. This is also true for telling your doctor that you eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, but don’t. Many people underestimate how much exercise they actually get. Sexual activity can be loaded with dangerous health risks, so don’t skip over this either. Also, don’t dismiss any pain or discomfort you’re having as being overwork, stressed or not getting enough sleep. It’s not up to you to decide which symptoms are serious and don’t be embarrassed to discuss any health topic honestly and in depth. If your doctor knows the true state of your health, then they can do a better job of treating you. Skipping out valuable information makes it harder for the doctor to make a diagnosis and an early diagnosis can be key to preventing long-term or serious complications. Prescribing medications accurately is one of those things that can easily become complicated when the doctor is using the wrong information. Dishonesty leads to distrust and if a doctor can’t trust what you’re telling them, they can’t be effective. Remember, you’re both on the same side.
You should feel comfortable being open and honest with your doctor. If you’re uncomfortable with your doctor’s demeanor, it won’t be easy to disclose private, and sometimes embarrassing, information. Doctors often appear rushed when seeing their patients, which is usually the outcome of financial and logistical pressures to see as many patients as possible. The key thing to remember is that this sense of urgency doesn’t make compassion and candid communication any less important. So, a doctor’s bedside manner is an essential aspect to your treatment. This is why finding a doctor whose personality suits your needs is key when choosing one. We know that if you don’t tell your whole story to your doctor, you can have grave consequences. So, it might be up to you to be honest, but your doctor can create an environment that is conducive to disclosure. In order to help create this environment, doctors can prompt more honesty from their patients if they explain why all the personal questions are being asked. It’s not just because doctors are being curious or nosy.
For doctors, honesty isn’t always the best policy, especially when it comes to situations where the outcome is likely negative. Many doctors feel that there are times when it’s morally acceptable to tell half-truths or withhold information from a patient or their family because they can’t handle the truth. For example, when it comes to seriously ill patients, data show that loved ones often have very different ideas of a patient’s prognosis than doctors do. According to a study published in Critical Care Medicine (2009), 93% of family members believed the patient would be alive in one year, 71% believed they would be living independently and 83% thought the patient would have good quality of life. However, the doctors taking care of these patients thought very differently. Only 43% expected the patient would be alive at a year, 6% believed the patient would be living independently and 4% thought the patient would have a good quality of life. No one likes to receive bad news, especially when it comes to our health, or the health of someone that we care about. Unfortunately, it’s something we will all experience at some point in our lives. This is why it’s vital to prepare yourself in advance to ensure that you receive the care that is most aligned with your preferences and values. When speaking with your doctor and other medical staff, encourage truthfulness and for them to share their thoughts openly and honestly. Most doctors will be less likely to tell you difficult facts if they don’t think you can handle it or don’t want to hear it. Wouldn’t this lack of honesty erode doctor-patient trust? Yes, it can. So, doctors should consider a couple of things before deciding to do this. They should be able to defend their choice to mask the truth from a patient in front of a professional association. Also, they should ask themselves that if the patient knew all of the facts, would they consent to the having been deceived. As for us, the patients, none of us like uncertainty, the key is being able to tolerate it to the best of our ability because the outcome of a serious illness is impossible to know until the very end. So, if doctors are holding back their concerns until they’re certain of the outcome because they don’t think you’ll handle the uncertainty well, you can miss out on some options for treatment that you might’ve wanted to take advantage of. You need to take your place at the head of the decision-making table because you belong there. Your doctor might be the expert on your disease, but you’re the expert on you.
One of the best things about honest communication between doctor and patient is that together they are able to make informed decisions about the patient’s care. This means having an open dialogue with your doctor and asking questions to make sure you understand your diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Some suggestions to maximize your level of care is to bring a list of questions and concerns to your appointment, have a family member or friend go with you, take notes detailing advice from your doctor about your treatment, keep track of your test results, medications and diagnoses by accessing your medical records and ask your practitioner for their preferred method of communication. It’s essential that you make a human connection with your doctor when you first see them. Remember, each doctor has their own individual style and that they’re a person, not a robot. Once you get past the initial greeting, be sure to get to the point of your visit and stay there. Tell your doctor about all of your complaints, even the embarrassing ones. If you have trouble discussing certain topics because you’re embarrassed, try rehearsing what you want to say before you go. Also, don’t save your questions until the end. Instead, ask them right away. If you need to have testing done during an appointment, it can seem like you are left alone in the exam room for eternity. This doesn’t mean that your doctor is ignoring you, but, most likely, they are collecting data and analyzing tests in order to be able to treat you better. Also, there isn’t a way to determine how each visit will go ahead of time. So, if the person in front of you revealed something serious or another patient had an emergency that your doctor is having to attend to, they need to give that person some additional, unplanned time and care. This is in no way a personal slight against you. Also, even if you need to disclose behavior that went against your doctor’s previous suggestions, you need to do it. Doctors understand that making lifestyle changes can be difficult. They want you to know that they realize it’s a struggle. So, talking to them about the challenges you feel are in front of you is a great way for you to sit down together and come up with ways to help you stay on track. If for any reason that your doctor isn’t meeting your needs, don’t be afraid to switch to a different doctor.
In order to come up with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, your doctor depends on honest reporting from you. So, don’t lie. When you do, you’re pretty much asking for trouble. A doctor’s job is to help you become or remain healthy. If they don’t have all of the information that they need, then they can’t do their job. Most doctors hope that their patients will choose the honest approach, no matter how difficult the information they need to share is. Patients need to understand that knowing their full health history and habits will help their doctor find a more accurate diagnosis and determine the success of the treatments implemented. In the best-case scenario, good communication occurs in both directions. It’s vital to keep in mind that the doctor-patient relationship is as imperfect as the two people who make up that relationship. Each has to recognize the other’s imperfection, strive to be as honest as possible and realize just how difficult that is. That level of honesty can hurt feelings sometimes, but can also save a life and that life you save might be your own!