When your doctor asks how often you exercise, do you give her an honest answer? How about when she asks what you’ve been eating lately? If you’ve ever stretched the truth, you’re not alone.
60 to 80 percent of people surveyed have not been forthcoming with their doctors about information that could be relevant to their health, according to a new study.
Besides fibbing about diet and exercise, more than a third of respondents didn’t speak up when they disagreed with their doctor’s recommendation. Another common scenario was failing to admit they didn’t understand their clinician’s instructions.
When respondents explained why they weren’t transparent, most said that they wanted to avoid being judged, and didn’t want to be lectured about how bad certain behaviors were. More than half were simply too embarrassed to tell the truth.
"Most people want their doctor to think highly of them," says the study’s senior author Angela Fagerlin, Ph.D., chair of population health sciences at U of U Health and a research scientist with the VA Salt Lake City Health System’s Informatics Decision-Enhancement and Analytic Sciences (IDEAS) Center for Innovation.
"They’re worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions," she adds.
Scientists at University of Utah Health and Middlesex Community College led the research study in collaboration with colleagues at University of Michigan and University of Iowa. The results will be published online in JAMA Network Open on November 30, 2018.
Insights into the doctor-patient relationship came from a national online survey of two populations. One survey captured responses from 2,011 participants who averaged 36 years old. The second was administered to 2,499 participants who were 61 on average.
"I’m surprised that such a substantial number of people chose to withhold relatively benign information, and that they would admit to it," says the study’s first author Andrea Gurmankin Levy, Ph.D., MBe, an associate professor in social sciences at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut. "
The trouble with a patient’s dishonesty is that doctors can’t offer accurate medical advice when they don’t have all the facts.
"If patients are withholding information about what they’re eating, or whether they are taking their medication, it can have significant implications for their health. Especially if they have a chronic illness," says Levy.