Lying to Physicians: 7 examples that must stop

Dr. Momma discusses the common practice of patients lying to physicians and highlights 7 examples of how this behavior can be harmful

Lying to physicians tends to be a default reaction that patients have when they are embarrassed. Embarrassed about the disease or length of time it has happened or what was going on when the problem started. However, you came for an evaluation. This means that on some level you want us to help you, but you are sabotaging these efforts by lying to physicians.

Several studies have documented that 28% of patients admit to lying to their physicians. My personal experience has shown that the percentage may be higher for parents who lie to doctors about their kids. In fact, there are groups of parents who acknowledge there are situations when it is okay to lie to pediatricians. 

I am sorry, but I disagree. Honesty needs to be the goal of every interaction with physicians. If you feel you need a doctor who believes in your values or methods of therapy, then find another doctor; but do not lie.

Physicians are trained to give you information based on expected risks and experience. Just because grandpa smoked 2 packs of cigarettes daily and lived to be 100 years old, you will not find a physician who agrees with your smoking habit. You may choose to keep smoking, but you should hear the risks. Yes, every time you come. Lying to physicians is not helpful.

Same is true for controversial child rearing practices of co-sleeping, vaccinations and food advancements. Many parents lie because they feel physicians are there only for medical advice and not for parenting advice. Understand that everyone has an opinion, and you will never do anything that everyone agrees with. Lying does not change that. So own up to your decisions and stop lying to physicians. Would you appreciate your child lying to you because they don’t want a lecture? Lying is lying.

Many times I tell my patients that medicine is not an exact science. However, understanding all the circumstances around the medical symptoms may give us a clue where to start. Sometimes, parents lie to physicians about things they think we do not need to know about. Please understand that just because you do not see how it is related does not mean that we will not!

When you come to us, you need to understand that we have had years of experience and training; consequently, while you are talking, our brains are literally scrolling through different options. This wealth of medical training and experience is what makes us so good at our jobs. It may seem easy that we quickly made a diagnosis, but that speed came with years of cataloging patients just like you. This is what you pay us for, so we need you to do your part and share as much of the facts as possible.

We fully recognize you have the right to refuse our treatment plans, but we should get the correct information and be allowed to make the decisions which we recommend to you. I have parents who change their child’s history in an attempt to avoid me recommending surgery. Well, that does not do a service to anybody. In fact, lying to your physician may hurt you or your child.

7 examples I hear regularly where parents need to stop lying to physicians

1. All the medications that my child takes are listed in the chart

I am a specialist so when I see what types of medications other physicians have prescribed, I understand the degree of the problem. Many parents forget medication names and doses, but those are extremely important.

In this electronic device era, I have previously provided the only tip you need to know in order to always remember the exact medications your child is taking.

2. I give my child medications as directed

Admitting that you stopped the antibiotics early can provide invaluable information. Physicians may opt to repeat a standard medication rather than believing that the full course of medication was not effective.

Also, acknowledge that you only give allergy medications when the symptoms are really bad instead of daily during the season as I prescribed. This helps me to avoid more aggressive management

3. This problem started 2 months ago

Symptoms present for a year, that were only mild, still count as symptoms. Yes, we need to know when the problem became more bothersome, but there is no judgment that you did not treat them in the past.

4. My child’s symptoms are mild and intermittent

Let’s be honest. I am a surgeon. You did not bring your child for an evaluation for a mild problem that sometimes happens. I need the facts and understand that you hope I do not recommend surgery. However, you need to hear that a problem is one that will not resolve with medications. Remember, you can choose to not have surgery, but you need to have surgery recommended before you can refuse it.

5. My child does not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes

I know. “Not my child”. But if you know, we should know.

6. My child only uses homeopathic or essential oil therapy occasionally

The basis of both medications and homeopathic treatments are often rooted in the same plants. Although medications may be created in the lab, the chemical structure may cause interactions with your homeopathic treatments. We need to know.

7. There is no family history of medical problems

Please ask family members. Especially before surgery. That hidden family history of bleeding and trouble waking up after anesthesia is extremely important to know. Ask, don’t assume.

Bottom line, there is no upside to lying to physicians. Your visit will be brief, and then you can continue on with your personal choices; but, we need to be allowed to provide recommendations based on facts.

Dr. Momma discusses the common practice of patients lying to physicians and highlights 7 examples of how this behavior can be harmful


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