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We always lie to our doctors. Why do we have to stop?

We always lie to our doctors. Why do we have to stop?

Some "little white lies" don't hurt anyone. But when it comes to your medical care, giving a falsely positive picture of your health or downplaying certain habits or activities can be very bad for your health.

Still, most of us aren't completely honest with medical professionals about our drinking or drug use, how we work out, what we eat, or even how we understand what a doctor tells us to do.

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) research found that at least four out of five people admit to lying about their behavior. Sabina Rebis, MD, a family medicine doctor in Connecticut, says that leaving out these details can be bad for our health.

Why do people tell doctors lies?

A lot of people are just too ashamed to admit to bad habits. The JAMA study says that patients leave out or don't give enough important information because they don't want to:

  • Being told what to do or judged
  • Listen (again) to how bad their habit is for their health.
  • Tell a doctor to treat them like they are a hard patient.
  • Take up too much of the doctor's time.

This is especially true when people talk about habits like drinking alcohol or taking drugs. The National Harm Reduction Coalition says that people are afraid of the shame that comes with some habits, as well as the bad things that could happen. People may not want to be completely honest, especially if they think that a doctor will treat them differently because they use drugs or alcohol (or even result in legal action).

But Rebis says that being honest with your doctor is neither embarrassing nor dangerous. She says that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 protects anything you say to your doctor (HIPAA).

"This means that we can't tell anyone anything you tell us in a doctor's office unless you are in immediate danger, like if you are hurting yourself," she says. "In that case, we can help."

What Information Does Your Doctor Need?

For doctors to give you the best care, they need to know everything about how you spend your days. This means knowing everything you put in your body, from vitamins and supplements to alcohol, prescription drugs, and even illegal drugs. A doctor may tell you to do things differently, but the goal should always be to make sure you are as healthy as possible.

Rebis says, "We want to help you, but we can't do that without full information."

Why it's important to tell your doctor the truth

Rebis says that drugs, substances, and even nutritional supplements can interact with the medicines your doctor gives you, and that these interactions can sometimes be life-threatening.

Your doctor can also make sure you're getting the best care possible if they have a full picture of your health. Your habits can change more than just how safe a drug is. Full transparency allows for better diagnoses, the right course of medical screenings, and even more proactive healthcare management.

"There are some screening tests we do for people who use drugs," says Dr. Rebis. For example, some smokers over the age of 50 get a low-dose lung CT (computerized tomography) scan.

Research also shows that when patients are honest about their drug and alcohol use, their doctors and nurses can better look for signs of addiction or dependence. This helps people get the right help or treatment if they have a condition like chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or a family history of addiction that may be linked to their drug or alcohol use.

Talking to Your Doctor:

"As doctors, it's our job to help improve your health," says Rebis. "Any shame, embarrassment, or worry that keeps you from telling important information makes it harder for you to get better and makes it harder for us to manage you." There's no shame in asking for help when you need it.

Remember that your doctor's questions are not an interrogation. They are just trying to find out as much as they can about you so they can give you the best care. Still, even though doctors try to get you to make the best choices for your long-term health, you should feel free to:

  • Continue to ask questions until you fully comprehend your doctor's recommendations, concerns, or advice.
  • If you are trying to change some habits, make sure your doctor helps you set realistic goals.
  • Speak up if you don't agree with your doctor or if you feel uncomfortable.

Read "How to Ask Your Doctor 'Embarrassing' Questions" for more advice on how to have hard conversations with health care professionals.

Carbon Health promises care for everyone without judging them. Our goal is to make great care available to everyone. You can make an appointment with a provider who can answer your questions and help you reach your health goals by going to carbonhealth.com or downloading our app.

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