An Uncomfortable Truth: Why Patients Lie to Their Physicians

An Uncomfortable Truth: Why Patients Lie to Their Physicians

The patient-doctor partnership is predicated on trust. Ideally, the doctor trusts that the patient is telling the truth about their situation, symptoms, and behaviors. To be optimally valuable, the doctor demands the info to be as correct as achievable.

However, a increasing body of study suggests that this is not normally the case and that quite a few patients are not normally transparent with their physicians about vital info.1 Some study suggests that as quite a few as 60% to 80% of Americans could not be forthcoming with their physicians about info that could influence their well being.1 Many also stay silent when they disagree with their physician’s assistance, do not disclose that they do not comprehend therapy directions, or that they have an unhealthy diet program or do not workout.1

A current survey of more than 3000 US adults carried out by USA Rx corroborated that a important quantity of Americans lie to their physicians.2 The survey located that much less than half (42%) of respondents have never ever lied to their doctor for any explanation, even though 58% acknowledged lying or concealing info. Mental well being, workout frequency, and alcohol consumption have been the top rated 3 subjects that respondents reported lying about most usually. Other subjects integrated diet program, drug use, sexual activity, and smoking.

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Disturbingly, the degree of comfort when speaking to physicians declined by generation, with 69% of “Baby Boomers” saying they felt “comfortable” speaking to their physicians, followed by 59.1% of respondents in “Gen-X,” 52.4% of Millennials, and only 51.8% of these in “Gen-Z.” There have been also regional variations in the percentages of patients who reported lying to their physicians, from 58% in Minnesota to 86% in South Carolina.

The most typical motives cited by respondents as to why they lie to their doctor have been embarrassment, worry of judgment, and to steer clear of lectures (40.4%, 33.8%, and 32.5%, respectively).

To shed additional light on these findings and their take-residence messages for practicing clinicians, we spoke to Teresa Lovins, MD, a main care doctor primarily based in Columbus, Indiana. Dr Lovins’ practice is named Lovin My Health DPC. She is on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Teresa Lovins, MD, a main care doctor primarily based in Columbus, Indiana.

Were you shocked by the quantity of patients who report lying to their physicians?

I wasn’t absolutely shocked. Especially when there’s a new patient, I normally have on my radar the possibility that the patient is not becoming completely up front with me. After all, I do not have substantially knowledge with that individual and have not however made a good partnership with them. The patient probably desires to place his or her “best foot forward” and could not inform me the entire story.

I also wasn’t shocked by the subjects that patients tended to be much less-than-transparent about. I keep in mind that in coaching, I was told to assume that anytime a patient was asked about alcohol use and offered a particular quantity that he or she consumed, I must assume that it was likely twice that quantity. But I also was taught to regard this as the patient underestimating alcohol use rather than deliberately lying. The similar can be mentioned for the other places, such as drug use, sexual activity, or workout quantity and frequency. I consider that in some cases patients do underestimate their use of a substance or overestimate the quantity of time they commit working out. However, there are other instances when they could possibly conceal the truth for a assortment of motives.

What are the motives, in your knowledge, that people today could possibly conceal the truth from their physicians?

The motives are the ones cited in the survey. Many patients are embarrassed about their life-style options, and quite a few are afraid of becoming lectured or judged. But I’ve found that as my partnership with the patient builds and I get to know the patient much better, I get closer to the actual truth. I generate an atmosphere of security and patients do not really feel judged.

In direct main care, I have the luxury of a tiny more time to construct rapport with patients and discover problems, compared to my colleagues who are in more conventional, common practice settings, and so the patient has more chance to get out the info they want to, and I have more chance to ask the inquiries I will need to ask. In more common settings, the speedy in-and-out nature of patient visits creates more compression and stress, exactly where there is much less time to discover what seriously could possibly be going on for the patient.

In these settings, I advise communicating nonjudgmentalism and acceptance to patients by means of tone, demeanor, and wording of the inquiries so as to invite them to open up to and, when they do so, continue to communicate that acceptance, even when discussing subjects such as working out more or consuming much less sugar, for instance.

And when you are taking a social history of the patient in that brief check out, attempt not to gloss more than inquiries about life-style, smoking, workout, alcohol use, simply because of feeling rushed. Patients usually sense that the doctor desires to get down to the “meat of the visit” and could consider, “Oh, the doctor doesn’t want that information. Let’s just give her the answer she wants and move on.”

The survey located mental well being to be an region that patients most often conceal from their providers. What are your perspectives on this?

I consider that, regardless of positive adjustments in this path, mental well being struggles are nonetheless related with stigma and quite a few people today do not want to open up about them. I really share some individual tidbits of my personal to aid patients really feel more comfy. I have told patients that I had problems with postpartum depression and that I comprehend the feeling of crying about points that do not ordinarily elicit tears. I have told patients that I take medication for depression and that, when I am on my medicines and feeling properly, getting my 4 dogs run by means of the home does not bother me. But if my medicines are not working, I develop into pretty irritable and the similar 4 dogs drive me up the wall. I know that I cannot normally manage how I really feel. Opening up to patients about my personal experiences normalizes what they’re going by means of and invites them to open up as properly.

I locate that younger people today are in some cases much less articulate about what they’re experiencing, maybe simply because they’re accustomed to making use of their computer systems or phones and do not normally know how to verbally express their discomforts, specially to somebody older, such as myself. And teenagers have a tendency to not be pretty forthcoming in common. It is in some cases like pulling teeth to elicit info or get an adolescent to open up. “Boomers” usually open up to me more readily simply because I am in their age group. Nevertheless, placing people today of all ages at ease and engaging in occasional individual sharing can pave the way for more open communication about physical and mental well being problems.

What do you consider could possibly account for the variation in between states, in terms of how quite a few patients report lying to their physicians?

My initial thoughts about why particular states have distinctive levels of lies relates to various things. One is what is the predominant generation in that state. From the information, the Baby Boomers have been more comfy with their doctor, so by outcome have been much less probably to lie to them. It would be good to correlate the state report with which generation is the predominant generation in that state.

The other aspect that could influence the state variations could be the age of the doctor in that state. When the patient and the doctor are at related ages, the comfy feeling is greater and more probably to have much less lying. Looking at the age demographics of the physicians could aid see the distinction in the state responses. The distinction could even be merely in the personalities of the population in the states. I am not seriously confident what would trigger some of the variations, but it is an exciting obtaining for me. I take place to work in a state with patients much less probably to lie to their doctor. I am glad about that. 

Are there other places not covered in the survey in which patients are not transparent with their physicians?

Some patients do not report their use of complementary/option modalities to physicians. In common, I consider there is a disconnect in between the allopathic medicine that I practice and integrative medicine, in which physicians prescribe or advise supplements. But even in integrative practices and undoubtedly in more standard practices, quite a few patients do not inform their providers that they are making use of supplements or option treatment options. And however, on the “medical history” types or throughout the clinical check out, quite a few practitioners do not ask patients about their use of option treatment options. This conveys the message that these therapies are not crucial adequate to ask about, so it does not necessarily take place to the patient to bring it up.

I normally ask patients to bring every single bottle of tablets that they are taking. Sometimes they are taking 14 supplements but do not recognize that these can have medicinal effects or can interfere with prescription therapies. If we do not ask them about what they’re taking, they will not consider to let us know.

Some patients are reluctant to disclose their use of supplements simply because they are afraid of criticism. Here once more, I consider that the more open you are about listening to patients, the more they will open up to you. I say, “I want to know everything about what you’re taking into your body so we can decide what you do and don’t want to continue.” And if they’re taking a supplement, I ask no matter if a practitioner prescribed it and why, and what the supplement is meant to achieve. I then inform them that I will be content to appear into the solution to see no matter if it is compatible with the treatment options I am prescribing. I say, “I want to learn as well and I’m always happy to learn something new.”

Another region of concern is exaggerating discomfort symptoms simply because the patient would like to obtain an opioid prescription. If a patient is coming in with a complaint of discomfort, I verify the registry of controlled substances to see if the information in the registry matches the medicines they claim to be taking. I also see if the discomfort described by the patient matches the injury or situation. I consider every single doctor has a “radar” and mine tends to light up when I hear even a slight discrepancy in a patient’s story. And when it comes to illegal substances, while I’m a major optimist and I hope absolutely everyone is telling the truth, I have a spot in my head that is skeptical and thinks, “Maybe that answer wasn’t quite truthful.”

How do you deal with the predicament if you suspect a patient could not be telling the truth?

In a nonconfrontational way I could possibly say, “Are you sure this is what you mean?” Or I could possibly recommend, “Let’s look at it in a different way.” I have a tendency to be a nonconfrontational individual, but if I see that the patient’s statements straight contradict what’s in the registry, I lay it on the line devoid of an angry or upset tone of voice. I clarify that if they are not becoming up front about what medicines they are taking, I have to be cautious about believing other points they’ve told me as properly.

Here’s an instance. A patient came to see me simply because she was experiencing anxiousness. She wanted a prescription for anti-anxiousness medicines. But there have been pieces of her story that just didn’t add up. I realized that she had been taking opioids prescribed by a further doctor and was going by means of withdrawal. I explained why I felt I couldn’t give her a controlled substance, simply because she had not been open about other controlled substances she had been taking, and she was more open with me at our next check out. I helped her locate other strategies to handle anxiousness and withdrawal symptoms, and our partnership started to strengthen. My sincere but nonjudgmental method invited her to be more sincere as properly and to trust me more.


  1. Vogel L. Why do patients often lie to their doctors? CMAJ. 2019191(4):E115. doi:10.1503/cmaj.109-5705.
  2. The States That Lie to Their Doctor the Most. Accessed June 13, 2022.

This short article initially appeared on MPR

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