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Are You Being Honest with Your Doctor?

Posted Dec 8th, 2008 by Trisha Torrey

Recently, one of my physician friends told me, “Patients lie.”

Lie? I asked her to elaborate.

She explained that many patients aren’t completely honest with their doctors. They embellish or withhold the truth about symptoms, triggers, habits, history, or any other piece of information that could help their physicians help them.

Mr. Smith walks five miles every day?  Oh, sure he does.  When Mrs. Brown lists her medications, she “forgets” to mention the multi-vitamin she takes or the glucosamine she believes helps her joints.  Uh-huh. 

As I gave it more thought, I realized that sometimes we patients may be dishonest with our doctors because we might not want to admit the truth, or because we are afraid they will judge us. Our relationship is already tentative enough, and we just don’t want to push that envelope.

How dangerous that could turn out to be!

There are some common lies that may affect our medical treatment. If diet is a factor in your health, you may be reluctant to admit that you’ve eaten something you know you shouldn’t. Maybe something hurts more than you care to admit. Perhaps you are covering up a bad habit, including smoking or too much alcohol. Or a certain behavior or symptom may be embarrassing.

Have you ever been less than honest with your doctor? Don’t be. Even a small fib can put your health, and possibly your life, at risk.

Your doctor’s job is not to judge you. There is no complaint she hasn’t heard before, no body part she hasn’t seen before, no smell she hasn’t smelled before, no test result she hasn’t reviewed before. No doctor is going to send you away because she disapproves of you or your behavior.

When it’s time to visit your doctor, make up your mind to be completely honest. Don’t simply tell her what you think she wants to hear, or what you think she expects to hear, or even what you wish was true. Don’t simply withhold the truth just because a question isn’t asked.  Don’t expect her to read your mind either.

Share information with your doctor as objectively and thoroughly as you can. Writing down the relevant facts ahead of time will help you do so. Keep track of your symptoms, when they started and how often they occur. Record possible triggers including activities, or food you’ve eaten. If you’re visiting a new doctor, share your medical history that might affect your current problems.

One more thought. If other doctors are like my friend, they may assume you’re being less than truthful. So tell them you know that can be a problem, and that you’re being honest, so they can make the best recommendations possible for your situation.


About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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