Dr. Joseph Sirven: Honest Is The Best Policy

Published: Tuesday, December 25, 2018 - 11:12am
Updated: Tuesday, December 25, 2018 - 11:13am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven

Honesty is the best policy, especially for medical relationships. Medical commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven explains.

“I’ve been lying to you for months now!” my patient blurts out. Sobbing she says, “I haven’t told you about how much I hate this medication and I’ve lied about taking it and I’m in trouble”. 

I tried my best to comfort her.

She says “I feel like I am paying for all of my lies.”

I respond, “We’ll work through it”.

Like any relationship, sometimes you just know when someone isn’t being straight with you. My patient made it easy, she admitted her well-intentioned deceptions. But why lie to the person who can help you?

According to a recent study, published in the journal "JAMA Open Network," my patient’s situation is common. Researchers from the University of Utah conducted a survey of more than 4,500 patients to assess how often patients lie to their physician. The online survey found that 60 to 80 percent of respondents provided alternative facts to their doctor with some type of clinical information. The most common lies were pretending to agree with the recommendation that their doctor offered followed by feigning an understanding about what was discussed at their last visit. Other common lies included failure to report unhealthy eating, not taking prescription medication as instructed, not exercising, and secretly taking medication prescribed by another doctor. When asked why they lie, the most common reason was not wanting to be judged or lectured about their behavior, followed by being embarrassed.

The study confirms my suspicions and is a sobering indictment of the state of the doctor/patient relationship. Regardless of whatever truth of your current clinical situation, your doctor is there to help. If they make you feel bad in the way they talk to you, then its time for a new doctor. Because if you don’t tell the truth, you won’t fix the problem.

I’m reminded of a line from my own mom. “The longest trip that you’ll ever take is the guilt trip from lying.” The consequences from lying to your doctor can be just like lying to your own mother.

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