Come Clean To Your Doctor

If you’ve ever told a white lie to your doctor – or just didn’t tell the whole truth – you’re not alone.

A recent study in JAMA Network Open found that the majority of the 4,500 patients studied withheld information from their physicians. Those with more health problems were even less likely to be completely open; for example, by not admitting they didn’t understand instructions, they disagreed with their doctors’ advice or they didn’t take medication as prescribed. That’s a problem.  

 Without adequate or accurate information, your doctor may not be able to reach the right diagnosis or establish an appropriate treatment plan, says study author Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut. 

 The cost of not giving your doctor the whole story may be especially high with inflammatory arthritis. “It ups the odds your inflammation won’t be effectively treated. And that can lead to irreversible joint damage and other serious issues,” says Sadia Khan, MD, a rheumatologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Here are some reasons people gave for hiding the truth, and what doctors say. 

 “I don’t want to be judged or lectured.”
Reality: “As doctors, it’s our job to help you, not judge you,” says Dr. Khan. If you feel your doctor doesn’t listen to your concerns, then it’s time to see another doctor. 

 “I don’t want to hear how harmful my behavior is.”
Reality: You probably know that habits like smoking or eating too much sugar aren’t good for you, but understanding the risks and consequences may help you stop them, says Levy. 

“I’m embarrassed.”
Reality: “Whether you have inadequate [insurance], money worries or are ashamed because you feel like you’re not disciplined, doctors have lots of resources to offer,” says Dr. Khan. “But we can only help if we know what’s going on.” 

 “I don’t want my doctor to think I’m a difficult patient.”
Reality: “Your health care is a partnership between you and your doctor,” says Susan Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. If you disagree or have questions, speak up. “Your doctor should hear you out and find a treatment plan that meets your goals and needs,” she says. 

 “I don’t want to take too much time.”
Reality: A good physician knows that effective care takes time. “If you can’t have a comprehensive conversation with your doctor, the odds of finding a treatment strategy you’ll stick with are low,” says Dr. Goodman. Consider seeing a new doctor if yours is always rushed.  

 How well do you communicate with your doctors? Find out what others are saying and join the discussion here 



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