Even the most honest person might be tempted to lie to their doctor. But why? As it turns out, there are several reasons.
Pretty Good Vision for a Blind Man
Several years ago I met a man who claimed he’d lost his sight in a recent construction accident. He said someone was tossing wooden beams into a trailer, and he was hit in the eye.
I didn’t see any evidence of damage. I performed extra testing, which turned out terrible. The results indicated he had no vision at all in either eye.
I suspected he faked the results of the test, because he didn’t seem too upset about his new “blindness.” And, he walked down the hall with no problems. He had even driven himself to the office!
And then came the kicker. He wanted me to prescribe pain medication to help him with his new condition.
After a few phone calls to local hospitals and clinics, I discovered he had visited several with the same request. I politely asked him to leave.
A Different Matter
The man was lying so he could get drugs. You may never even think of such a thing. But you might still be tempted to tell a fib to your doctor.
A recent study suggests about 25% of patients lie to their doctors. And while most patients aren’t after narcotics, many may lie for other reasons.
Here are six reasons people might lie to their doctor:
- To get something. The man in the story wanted painkillers, but there are many things people are willing to fib for. These might include an excuse for missing work, a prescription for antibiotics, or extra contact lenses. I sometimes see children who claim to see poorly simply because they like the idea of wearing glasses.
- To keep something. Often, a patient says their contact lenses are comfortable. But when I say lens comfort can be improved, they’re interested in new lenses. Many admit they only say they like their lenses because they’re afraid I might take them away. I can understand that. But it’s an irrational fear.
- To avoid embarrassment. Many patients are simply embarrassed to admit contacts or medications are out of their budget. I would rather have a patient be honest about this. There are often cheaper alternatives, local charity groups, other programs that can help.
- To avoid reality. Often, a patient will complain about their eyes. if I discover early signs of an eye disease, they will then tell me they’re not having any problems. Although I understand some eye problems can be scary, avoiding the situation will never help.
- To please the doctor. Often we simply want to please authority figures. A friend in law enforcement told me he doubles the answer when he asks a driver how much he had to drink. And when dentists ask patients how often they floss, they’ll generally consider half the answer as the truth.
- To avoid confrontation. When a patient admits they haven’t followed my advice, they’re usually pretty shy about it. Some admit they’re afraid I’ll shout at them. I never do, but several people have faced stern doctors and don’t want another unpleasant episode.
- To save time. Let’s face it: doctors can miss opportunities in the exam room. Patients may lie because they don’t feel they have enough time to discuss their health concerns. I understand sometimes it isn’t easy for patients, so I always ask whether they have any questions. If your doctor doesn’t usually do that for you, make sure you say you have questions to ask before the end of the exam.