A survey of 4,510 people in the United States reveals an alarming finding: 70% of patients have already withheld information from their doctors.
The relationship between a patient and their health professional, whether a treating physician, specialist or nurse, should be based on mutual trust. The more information the health professional has about the patient, the more appropriate the diagnosis and recommendations are. However, an American survey reveals that 70% of patients would lie to their doctor.
70% of patients withhold information
"I didn't tell the doctor I didn't agree with him" - 37.8%
"I didn't understand the doctor's instructions" - 27.6%
"I didn't tell the doctor that my diet wasn't healthy" - 22.2%
Who has never left the doctor's office disagreeing with their conclusions or without having understood everything? It seems that many people do not share their opinion with their health professional. 37.8% of patients surveyed confirmed that they had already hidden from the doctor that they did not agree with them. 27.6% of patients did not tell the doctor that they had not understood their recommendations. Finally, 22.2% of patients failed to honestly explain their diet to the doctor, hiding their bad eating habits.
Other information is also hidden from the doctor: not taking treatment as instructed, not doing sports, taking another medication or taking someone else's treatment. In total, 70% of patients would have already lied (directly or by omission) to the health professional who was interviewing them.
72% of patients did not want to be judged
It seems that these lies can be explained first of all by the fear of the doctor's reaction. For 72% of patients, fear of being judged or lectured was the determining factor in concealing the truth from their healthcare professional.
"I didn't want to be judged or lectured" - 72%
"I didn't want to know how serious my illness was" - 67.9%
"I was ashamed" - 54.8%
In the eyes of patients, health professionals tend to be judgmental or condescending about their patients' problems. They prefer to hide the fact that they have not understood something rather than ask the question.
For 67.9% of patients, it was the fear of hearing bad news that played a role. Almost 55% of patients were embarrassed (for example, for not having played sports) and therefore preferred to lie. Many respondents also did not want to appear to be annoying patients or fools and wanted their doctors to like them; others did not want to waste their doctors' time. Some patients did not think that the withheld information was important or did not want it to be included in their medical records. Other reasons cited by patients were fear of having to change their habits, the idea that the doctor, in any case, could do nothing for them, and the fear of having this information revealed to a loved one. Respondents explained that they had already had a negative experience by disclosing the information in question to a previous doctor.
Women, youth and the sick
The study also shows that women and young people are more likely to lie to their doctors. The investigation was divided in two. In the group with an average age of 36 years, 81.1% of respondents have already lied to their doctor. In the second group, where the average age is 61, only 61.4% of respondents have already withheld at least one piece of information from their doctor.
People who consider their health to be poor are also the most likely to withhold information. Patients with chronic diseases also reported lying to their doctors more than others. However, it is the people who would most need help from doctors who are most likely to lie.
An ambiguous relationship with the doctor
These figures clearly show the sometimes difficult relationship that patients have with their doctor or health professional in the broad sense. Beyond the fear of diagnosis or the fear of being prescribed something coercive if they are totally honest, patients do not always completely trust their doctor. The judgment of the health professional is often perceived as negative and not simply medical. The relationship seems to be regularly unbalanced in the patient who receives the instructions and the almighty doctor. Finally, trust seems difficult to build between the care team and the patient.
How can this doctor-patient relationship be improved?
What ideas would you have to facilitate communication between the patient and his or her doctor? It is essential to be able to solve these difficulties and to be in complete confidence with your health professional, because the more information the doctor has, the more they will be able to provide you with the right answers for your pathology.
Do you think the time allowed per appointment should be longer?
Would the online Shared Medical Record (SHR) allow for the better follow-up of patients, even when they change health professionals?
How can we raise awareness among physicians so that they are more aware and understanding of patients' misinformation?
Tell us your ideas!
This article is based on the following publication: "Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Patient Nondisclosure of Medically Relevant Information to Clinicians", by Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD, MBe; Aaron M. Scherer, PhD; Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD; Knoll Larkin, MPH; Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, MSc; Angela Fagerlin, PhD. The results of this survey are based on two questionnaires distributed in the United States between September 28 and October 8, 2018. The first, Amazon's Mechanical Turk, has 2,011 respondents. The second, Survey Sample International, has 2,499 respondents. With humour, the authors conclude by nuancing the results, which may be underestimated: if respondents lied to their doctor, there is no evidence that they did not lie when answering the survey!