‘We’re a Country of Liars’

Turns out, we’re a country of liars.

No, I’m not wading into political waters… I’m referring to the new finding that up to 80% of us lie to our doctors.

The study released in JAMA Network Open (an open-access version of leading journal JAMA) showed that we’re not truthful with our medical providers. The researchers surveyed about 4,500 participants. Roughly half were young, with an average age of 36, and the other half averaged 61 years old.

Seven questions appeared on the survey. Folks needed to state if they “ever avoided telling a health care provider” that they…

1. Did not understand the provider’s instructions.
2. Disagreed with the provider’s recommendation.
3. Did not exercise or did not exercise regularly.
4. Had an unhealthy diet or how unhealthy their diet was.
5. Took a certain medication (i.e., deliberately did not mention a certain agent).
6. Did not take their prescription medication as instructed.
7. Took someone else’s prescription medication.

Of those surveyed, 60-80% said they had either lied or withheld information about at least one of these seven questions.

The one thing most people tripped over? Communicating with the doctor, nurse, or physician assistant. Not understanding instructions or not agreeing with recommendations are at the top of the list.

Think about it. If your doctor recommends a certain set of exercises to help with a sprained ankle, do you blindly agree, or do you ask questions about how to do them?

Health behaviors (diet and exercise) were next. This makes sense… who wants to admit to their health care provider they aren’t hitting the gym as much as they should? (A behavior we wrote about recently, here.)

One group of folks who lied the most were those with self-reported poor health. So those who might need the most help won’t get it. They might feel embarrassed or try to frame their problem as not that serious.

That’s particularly true for older folks. They simply don’t want to bother the doctor or write off their ailment as a sign of getting older. Don’t take this attitude – let your doctor know about any changes in your health as it may be a sign of something serious.

Even so, more young folks lie about health behaviors than older people. That’s great for us, but there’s still a catch. As a 2004 survey from WebMD found, we’re all likely to lie about what medications we take. And I don’t mean that you assume your doctor knows about all your prescriptions… I’m talking about forgetting to mention that new diet pill you’ve been trying or that supplement that’s supposed to make you feel 20 years younger.

Another 2005 study from California HealthCare Foundation also saw that one in eight patients lied about a health behavior. They left out that they did things considered a risk to their health.

That’s dangerous, but it’s also a look at the failings of our health care system. Imagine lying about your health because you were too afraid of losing your health insurance coverage. Some folks avoid medical care because they can’t afford it either.

So before you go to your next doctor’s visit, here are four things to make sure you’re prepared…

1. Keep a list of all medications you take. Include all supplements as well. Make sure your doctor has a list of all these medications. There could be dangerous interactions you might not realize. Also, one of these might be the root cause of your complaint. If your doctor doesn’t know what you’re taking, you could face a lot of unnecessary tests.

2. Have someone go with you. Having someone act as your advocate helps because they can take notes and ask questions you might not think about. This is particularly helpful if you’re battling a difficult disease like cancer. Your emotions may cloud your mind from asking for specifics or clarification when you need it most.

If you’re in the hospital, remember you can also ask for help. If you feel you’re getting unnecessary medications or surgery (or just need help understanding what’s happening), ask for a “patient advocate” or a different doctor. Medicine is big business, and you deserve the best service available… not what will make it easy for the doctors.

3. Write down any symptoms you want addressed. Also write down any questions you have before your visit. Don’t be afraid to pull out the list and ask your doctor until you understand everything. If they try to rush you out of their office without giving you sufficient answers, find a new doctor.

4. Prepare for expenses. We’ve written before about the importance of having an emergency fund. We also recommend a health savings account (HSA) as a great vehicle for saving pre-tax dollars you can use for health-related expenses later.

Using these four tips will help make your visits to the doctor more successful… and more truthful. Remember, you are the best safeguard for your own health. Voice your concerns and get the attention and treatment you need.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 18, 2018