Lies People Tell Their Doctors

3 min read  |  May 18, 2018  | 

Lying to your doctor is not uncommon; I’ve done it and perhaps you’ve done it, too.  In my case, it was more an exaggeration than a lie – “Oh yeah, I get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.”

This might seem benign, but according to Dr. Robert Schwartz, who specializes in family medicine at the University of Miami Health System, not telling your doctor the whole truth can be detrimental to your health.  “At the very least, it can limit your doctor’s ability to help you,” he says.

Schwartz explains that patients often lie about things they find embarrassing or because they don’t want to be judged. “The most common lies told are about smoking, drugs, and diet,” he says. He also adds that omission of information is more common than outright lying.

Dietary supplements

Many patients don’t tell their doctors about over-the-counter medication or dietary supplements they take.  This is particularly dangerous as some medications can have negative interactions with other medications or even dietary supplements.  In fact, according to a 2016 investigation published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, approximately one in six older adults may be at risk for a major drug-drug interaction.

I don’t eat sweets or junk food.

This is a great example of a lie that can affect your medical care.  For instance, if you eat a bunch of donuts before you go in for blood work that might skew your results.  Or, if your doctor is not aware that your diet is high in fat you may be prescribed unnecessary medication.

I don’t do drugs.

Illicit drug use can be dangerous in its own right, but mixing in a prescription can be fatal.  Some patients may lie to physicians about their drug use because they are scared of being arrested. Dr. Schwartz says that patient-doctor confidentiality prevents doctors’ offices from notifying law enforcement in most situations.

I only smoke cigarettes every once in a while.

This is a common “white lie” that many patients tell their doctors because they don’t want to be lectured about the many health risks of tobacco use.

“I had an elderly patient who had been coming to me for more than 10 years,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Every time she came into my office she smelled strongly of cigarettes, but every time I asked she insisted that she only smoked a couple cigarettes a day.”

If you do smoke, though, your doctor can help you tap into the many resources available to help you quit.

I always use protection.

Sex is a touchy subject for most people and many don’t like to admit that they have had unprotected sex. With sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, however, being open with your doctor can save your life and others.

At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like you can be honest with your doctor, it may be best to find another one. Physicians should be nonjudgmental and respectful, especially when asking sensitive questions. “It is up to the doctor to make patients feel comfortable and safe,” says Dr. Schwartz.

Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News Blog. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.

Tags: communication, Dr. Robert Schwartz, family medicine, internal medicine, patient-doctor relationship

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