Feb 13, 2014

What lies do you tell your doctor? "Oh yes, I exercise for at least 40 minutes three to five times a week. Oh no, I never eat fast food. Oh yeah, my husband's my only sexual partner." An anonymous survey of women suggested about 50% of women lie to their doctor.

So have you ever lied to your doctor or stretched the truth when the medical assistant is asking questions? If you did, you're not alone, notice I didn't say that you're in good company. A lot has been written about doctors telling the truth or not to their patients, but today we're going to talk about patients telling the truth to their doctors.

Some of you out there are just getting health care for the first time for a long time, yea for you. But you'll be having the first check up in a long time, you should tell the truth. So a survey of 1500 people found that in the last year 13% had lied to their doctors, 32% stretched the truth and 40% had lied about following a prescription plan.

A survey of women found that 52% stretched the truth. They admitted to overestimating their exercise, this is an anonymous survey, they admitted to underreporting their drinking and smoking. Other surveys noted that midlife women 45 to 64, so this isn't just young folks who are lying, women 45 to 64 were twice as likely to admit to an occasional or unconventional sexual partner in an anonymous survey compared to when asked by their doctor. So they were twice as likely to tell the truth about a new sexual partner if it were anonymous than when asked in the office.

Not telling the truth can lead you to getting the wrong prescription or the wrong dose or the wrong diagnosis. Drug and alcohol use can cause symptoms that might be treated the wrong way or the patient might be given the wrong diagnosis if the patient lies about their substance abuse. This is a really big problem. We know that denial is part of addiction but boy does it cost money and heartache. It's also enormously expensive when physicians go down one road, have investigation and tests when they shouldn't have if the patient had told the truth.

The most important thing is it will change the way you get your health care. When you're pregnant, there's a little non-liar on board whose being adversely effected by their mom's lies.

So if your ashamed, okay, but your doctor isn't in the blame game and their isn't much you can tell her, she hasn't already heard. She wants to be your partner in health, she wants the truth. Your doctor has to keep your confidence in almost everything. Well exceptions are if you told your doctor if you plan to severely injure another person, if you have gonorrhea, Chlamydia, HIV, these are reportable diseases that have to be reported to the health department but your doctor doesn't usually do that, it's the laboratory that does that.

Are you worried about what might go onto the medical record? Talk to your doctor if there is something you don't want on the record. For me, unless I'm bound by law to report it, this is negotiable. If you don't want to tell in your medical record that you had a baby that you gave up for adoption when you were 16, okay, that's not critical to my care for you. If it's important it's not there for you, I won't put it there. But what I want is the truth from you so I can take care of you.

So don't fib, stretch the truth or lie to your doctor. Find a clinician with whom you can have a therapeutic relationship based on truth with the goal to maximize your physical and emotional health.


updated: February 18, 2020
originally published: February 13, 2014

For Patients