Why You Lie to Your Doctor, and Why You Shouldn't

July 6, 2020

With any relationship, we generally try to put ourselves in the best light possible. But when it comes to the doctor/patient relationship, doing that to extremes can be detrimental to your health. 

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, depending on age, 61 to 81 percent of patients have lied to their doctor.  

The doctor/patient relationship is a tricky one, and time can be a limitation during an office visit, but if you’re concerned about your health, the one thing you shouldn’t do is be untruthful.  

What the Patient Can Do

Often patients tell a doctor what they wish was happening, even if it isn’t, says Dr. Sarah Goodpastor, doctor of Obesity Medicine and Internal Medicine at Mercy Internal Medicine. They know what they should be doing, and they don’t want to disappoint the doctor.  

But say you have hypertension (high blood pressure). Are you exercising? Are you controlling salt in your diet? You answer yes, but that’s not the truth. There are no other lifestyle treatment possibilities, so the next level of treatment is medication, which you may not actually need. 

Or say you’re not taking your prescribed medications, but you tell the doctor you are. The doctor might increase a dosage, leading to adverse effects. If you’re too embarrassed to talk to your doctor about certain symptoms you’re experiencing, there’s no way the underlying condition can be properly diagnosed or treated. Left untreated, it could develop into something even worse. 

If people understood how critical it is to tell the truth, how important being honest is in reaching their health goals, they’d come clean, Dr. Goodpastor says. Don’t be ashamed to be honest.  

“If you are feeling ashamed, you’re with the wrong provider.” As they say, we’re all human, and doctors have seen it all before. 

What Your Doctor Can Do

Physicians have an equal role in establishing an open and beneficial relationship. Dr. Goodpastor says her role is facilitator—sharing her knowledge and providing patients information and perhaps recommendations. But ultimately patients should make their own decisions. 

Patients are concerned about sharing delicate information—perhaps regarding a sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse, or mental health issues. That information is protected by law. A physician can address those and other barriers to establishing a solid relationship.

“It takes a long time to build trust, and for people to want to tell you why they’re not taking their medications,” Dr. Goodpastor says. 

It’s a collaborative relationship, much more effective with good communication and honesty.  

“It should be a positive and empowering relationship,” Dr. Goodpastor says, and concedes: “That doesn’t mean the doctor’s going to agree with everything you say.”