7 fibs that 80% of patients tell their doctors

Most common reasons for lying were not wanting to be judged or lectured, survey shows

It’s true — patients tell their doctors whoppers when questioned about their health in a bid to avoid being judged, new US research has found.

telling lies concept

To test doctors’ long-held belief that patients are adept at withholding essential medical information, the University of Utah-led researchers conducted two distinct surveys of over 4500 adults.

    All in all, 80% of participants in the first survey, average age 36, admitted to lying about one of seven things, the researchers reported in JAMA Network Open

    About 60% of older adults (average age 61) undertaking the second survey also confessed to being economical with the truth.

    Here's the top-ranked fibs patients tell:
    1. Not letting on they disagreed with the doctor’s recommendations (1703 participants)
    2. Lying about understanding their instructions (1245)
    3. Admitting they had an unhealthy diet, with 999 keeping mum
    4. Failing to exercise  (984)
    5. Not taking a prescription medicine as instructed (892)
    6. Avoided saying they had taken a certain medication (569)
    7. Taking someone else’s medication (499)

    Of more concern, those with a chronic illness or bad self-rated health were more likely to avoid sharing information about their diet, exercise, medications and understanding, the researchers reported.

    “If patients are withholding information from clinicians as frequently as this research suggests, then clinicians are routinely not receiving the information that they need to provide high-quality care to patients, especially sicker patients,” they said.

    The most common reasons for lying were not wanting to be judged or lectured, not wanting to hear how harmful their behaviour was and embarrassment.

    Courtesy also appeared to play a role, with up to half admitting they didn’t want to come across as a difficult patient and 36-45% not wanting to take up any more of the doctor’s time.

    Lead author Dr Andrea Gurmankin Levy (PhD), from Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, said she was surprised that so many people chose to withhold relatively benign information.

    "We also have to consider the interesting limitation that survey participants might have withheld information about what they withheld, which would mean that our study has underestimated how prevalent this phenomenon is," she said.

    "If patients are withholding information about what they're eating, or whether they are taking their medication, it can have significant implications for their health. Especially if they have a chronic illness.”

    More information: JAMA Network Open 2018