Dr. Jeff Kane: What? Patients lie to their doctors? | TheUnion.com

Dr. Jeff Kane: What? Patients lie to their doctors?

A recent study published in an AMA journal revealed that three-quarters of patients lie to their doctors.

Their most common lie is expressing agreement with the doc’s treatment recommendations, having already decided to ignore that advice. Another lie is claiming they understand the doc’s instructions while they’re utterly befuddled by them. They lie about their habits of diet, exercise, smoking, sex, and alcohol and drug consumption. Some lie to keep from being denied health or life insurance. Some lie more deviously, such as seeking illegitimate pain meds or false disability status.

In this study, patients’ most popular reason for lying was that they didn’t want the doctor to give them a hard time about their behavior. Other reasons included embarrassment about their conduct, reluctance to waste the doc’s time, not wanting the doc to think they’re stupid, and not wanting certain information in their electronic medical record, to which, they suspect, the world’s hackers have access.

This study surveyed some 4,500 patients, divided into two groups by age. One group averaged 36 years old and the other 61; 81% of the younger group withheld information, while only 61% of the older group did. Why such a difference?

My fantasy is that during the past two generations the patient-doctor relationship has hemorrhaged trust. Some of us are old enough to remember docs knowing us from childhood, making house calls in their unpretentious Buicks, and sitting at our home bedside. In that atmosphere we had little to hide. The relationship has changed along with healthcare’s transitions. Too often now, patient and doctor meet for the first time and may never meet again, and home visits have gone the way of the passenger pigeon.

Actually, deceit can taint both ends of the stethoscope. Docs sometimes minimize problems, fail to tell the whole truth, or express dangerously simplified explanations, especially in delivering bad news or admitting error.

We all behave like human beings, tending to stretch and fudge for what we want. Not only in healthcare circles, but in every sphere of life we believe exactly what we want to believe, often despite evidence to the contrary.

Whatever lies flow between docs and patients, the most serious ones are the lies we tell ourselves. We know, for example, that too much work is hazardous, but keep our nose to the grindstone overtime anyway. We know that a fast-food Gutbuster with extra cheese and bacon will clog our arteries, but ignore that fact in favor of comfortable habit. Ask your doctor what proportion of his or her patients suffers from disorders initiated by unhealthy lifestyles.

I’m only saying that dishonesty in healthcare can bear serious consequences. The truth will not only free us, but make us healthier.

Dr. Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.

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