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Patients frequently lie to their doctors

Why do patients lie?

According to many patients, it is not uncommon for them to tell their doctor’s half truths or blatant lies. Doctors have become so accustomed to the practice they are now taught in training to expect it. In fact some doctors have suggested that the not-so-subtle message underlying the practice is: patients lie.


There are a variety of reasons this may be the case. Some patients argue they don’t want to be judged. Others claim that lying or wanting someone to think the best of them is just human nature, and patients want to please their doctors.

Some patients claim that lying about their conditions may keep information from their medical records which could interfere with their ability to get medical insurance or future employment.

Lying can interfere with treatment

Doctors complain that omitting information can be dangerous and eliminates the doctor’s ability to provide proper treatment, provide an accurate diagnosis or prescribe the proper medication to treat a specific condition.

So what are the most common lies?

Lies can include anything from the amount of exercise a patient does each week to the diet they consume. Others may down play the amount they smoke or whether they are taking illicit drugs. Other patients may simply leave out information about symptoms they are experiencing to avoid hospitalization. Others lie about the amount of over the counter medications they are taking,  which can be especially dangerous.

But it’s not just lies that are omitted that may impact patient health care. Some patients will include incorrect information to get something from the doctor such as disability benefits, handicap parking permits or access to prescription medications.

Interestingly, men were more likely to lie than women, according to a consumer survey conducted by WebMD, and younger patients were more likely than older patients to lie.

When are patients most likely to lie? Some doctors find that patients may lie when they disagree with the doctor. For instance, a new mother might tell the pediatrician that their daughter doesn’t use a pacifier, even if she does, because the mother is less concerned about the long-term ramifications of pacifier use than the doctor.

Doctors lie too

What may be surprising to many patients is that doctors lie too. According to one study published last year in the journal Health Affairs just over one-tenth of more than 1,800 physicians surveyed had told patients something untrue in the previous year.

The reasons a doctor lies can be as varied as a patient’s reasons. Some doctors claim they may have described a prognosis in a more favorable light than they should have or did not disclose a mistake they made due to fear of litigation.

How to detect a lie

So how do you detect a lie? There are a variety of methods that can be used to detect lying. Some of the most common include pausing, signs of anxiety, sweating, stammering and avoiding eye contact, but many of these signs are difficult for both doctors and patients to recognize if they are not familiar with the other person and their typical mannerisms.

What’s the bottom line? For your health it is better to tell the truth. And many lies can be detected anyway. For instance, the dentist can always tell whether or not you floss.


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