70% of patients have already lied to their doctor!

Published 17 Jan 2019 • By Louise Bollecker

70% of patients have already lied to their doctor!

A survey of 4,510 people in the United States reveals an alarming finding: 70% of patients have already withheld information from their doctors.

The relationship between a patient and their health professional, whether a treating physician, specialist or nurse, should be based on mutual trust. The more information the health professional has about the patient, the more appropriate the diagnosis and recommendations are. However, an American survey reveals that 70% of patients would lie to their doctor.



70% of patients withhold information

"I didn't tell the doctor I didn't agree with him" - 37.8%

"I didn't understand the doctor's instructions" - 27.6%

"I didn't tell the doctor that my diet wasn't healthy" - 22.2%

Who has never left the doctor's office disagreeing with their conclusions or without having understood everything? It seems that many people do not share their opinion with their health professional. 37.8% of patients surveyed confirmed that they had already hidden from the doctor that they did not agree with them. 27.6% of patients did not tell the doctor that they had not understood their recommendations. Finally, 22.2% of patients failed to honestly explain their diet to the doctor, hiding their bad eating habits.

Other information is also hidden from the doctor: not taking treatment as instructed, not doing sports, taking another medication or taking someone else's treatment. In total, 70% of patients would have already lied (directly or by omission) to the health professional who was interviewing them.

72% of patients did not want to be judged

It seems that these lies can be explained first of all by the fear of the doctor's reaction. For 72% of patients, fear of being judged or lectured was the determining factor in concealing the truth from their healthcare professional.

"I didn't want to be judged or lectured" - 72%

"I didn't want to know how serious my illness was" - 67.9%

"I was ashamed" - 54.8%

In the eyes of patients, health professionals tend to be judgmental or condescending about their patients' problems. They prefer to hide the fact that they have not understood something rather than ask the question.

For 67.9% of patients, it was the fear of hearing bad news that played a role. Almost 55% of patients were embarrassed (for example, for not having played sports) and therefore preferred to lie. Many respondents also did not want to appear to be annoying patients or fools and wanted their doctors to like them; others did not want to waste their doctors' time. Some patients did not think that the withheld information was important or did not want it to be included in their medical records. Other reasons cited by patients were fear of having to change their habits, the idea that the doctor, in any case, could do nothing for them, and the fear of having this information revealed to a loved one. Respondents explained that they had already had a negative experience by disclosing the information in question to a previous doctor.

Women, youth and the sick

The study also shows that women and young people are more likely to lie to their doctors. The investigation was divided in two. In the group with an average age of 36 years, 81.1% of respondents have already lied to their doctor. In the second group, where the average age is 61, only 61.4% of respondents have already withheld at least one piece of information from their doctor.

People who consider their health to be poor are also the most likely to withhold information. Patients with chronic diseases also reported lying to their doctors more than others. However, it is the people who would most need help from doctors who are most likely to lie. 

An ambiguous relationship with the doctor

These figures clearly show the sometimes difficult relationship that patients have with their doctor or health professional in the broad sense. Beyond the fear of diagnosis or the fear of being prescribed something coercive if they are totally honest, patients do not always completely trust their doctor. The judgment of the health professional is often perceived as negative and not simply medical. The relationship seems to be regularly unbalanced in the patient who receives the instructions and the almighty doctor. Finally, trust seems difficult to build between the care team and the patient.

How can this doctor-patient relationship be improved?

What ideas would you have to facilitate communication between the patient and his or her doctor? It is essential to be able to solve these difficulties and to be in complete confidence with your health professional, because the more information the doctor has, the more they will be able to provide you with the right answers for your pathology.

Do you think the time allowed per appointment should be longer?

Would the online Shared Medical Record (SHR) allow for the better follow-up of patients, even when they change health professionals?

How can we raise awareness among physicians so that they are more aware and understanding of patients' misinformation?

Tell us your ideas!

This article is based on the following publication: "Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Patient Nondisclosure of Medically Relevant Information to Clinicians", by Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD, MBe; Aaron M. Scherer, PhD; Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD; Knoll Larkin, MPH; Geoffrey D. Barnes, MD, MSc; Angela Fagerlin, PhD. The results of this survey are based on two questionnaires distributed in the United States between September 28 and October 8, 2018. The first, Amazon's Mechanical Turk, has 2,011 respondents. The second, Survey Sample International, has 2,499 respondents. With humour, the authors conclude by nuancing the results, which may be underestimated: if respondents lied to their doctor, there is no evidence that they did not lie when answering the survey!



avatar Louise Bollecker

Author: Louise Bollecker, Community Manager France

Community Manager of Carenity in France, Louise is also editor-in-chief of the Health Magazine to provide articles, videos and testimonials that focus on patients' experiences and making their voices heard. With a... >> Learn more


on 30/01/2019

Oh wow! Am I in the minority then? I believe in honesty, admittedly sometimes to the point of brutality! I can see very little point in going see the doctor if I'm then going to withhold information.

I do think that the honesty thing should be a two way street, doctors frequently withhold information. I have had many strongly worded conversations with my medical team because of lack of honesty on their part.

I don't think many doctors have great knowledge about nutrition and or exercise so I wouldn't discuss my eating habits with the doctor anyway.

I have felt on many occasions that my medical team want compliance not conversation! I'm more than happy to disagree if I feel it relevant. I do think that it's important to be involved and fully engaged in my own treatment, whether the doctor likes it or not! I'll continue to insist on honesty from them and I'll continue to be upfront with them!

on 30/01/2019
maddoglady you are obviously very confident but a lot of folks are not & they are also worried & don't want to make it worse, or they know they are overweight & feel guilty. Fear & guilt I would suggest are the two biggest reasons why people "lie" they don't see it as lying per se they are often trying to preserve a little dignity & Drs in particular are not always sensitive to this. I told the absolute truth when I smoked (many years ago now) but I know they did not believe me one actually said so. I did not go back to a Dr because he virtually said there was nothing wrong with me & I was deeply embarrassed. 5 years later I almost died because of it, I had a massive brain aneurism where the symptoms were intermittent & he made me too embarrassed to go back.. For the medical staff The time factor is very real they are trying to see 20 people when there is only time for 15 something has to give. The one thing they could do is to say if you don't feel any better or need to ask any questions give us a ring. It means allocating someone who knows ie nurse practitioner or Dr to returning the call but it is worth a lot in anxiety to the patient & may mean fewer actual appointments are needed. Sensitivity & common sense all round would go a long way

lesmal • Ambassador
on 26/03/2019

I feel there must be complete trust between the patient and their doctor; why visit the doctor and get advice or talk about a health issue if you don't trust him/her enough to communicate with? 

Most doctors give approx. 20 minutes for an appointment; I feel this should be longer, i.e. 30 minutes.  I recently changed my doctor in the same practice due to only having time to discuss one medical issue, being rude and not having time for his patients. I am now under another doctor who spends more time listening to me and discussing any queries that are of concern. 

When one doesn't know the medical terms or 'jargon' used in medical reports, ask the questions, make your doctor explain them thoroughly to you so you understand any further testing, surgery procedure or more! 

Many of us are used as 'guinea pigs' for trial medication, testing etc. but stick up for yourself and get the answers from your doctor. 

Trusting him/her is what counts; have the confidence in yourself also! 

on 24/04/2019

I was interested that you say you are allowed 20 minutes for an appointment... here in Great Britain we are allowed 10 minutes..hardly enough time, if you are nearly 90, to sit down and remember what you came for especially if you have waited a long time .

lesmal • Ambassador
on 28/04/2019

@Determined ‍ In our Doctors' practice they have posters up advising the patient there is a 'Walk In' service from 8.30 a.m. - 11.00 a.m. each morning for any ailments that might need immediate attention. They also stipulate that some could be more important than others and take up more time. They do request us to please be patient during their waiting times for anything that is an emergency etc. They also request that patients contact their Pharmacy or ER 

Appointment times are taken for the afternoon only, when one needs to discuss a health condition for a longer period or add another condition to request advice on or speak to the Doctor about. This is usually a 20 minute appointment, but can obviously take longer.

I have arrived early at many of my appointments with the Doctor; he has been very obliging and if no one is waiting the doctor has called me in earlier. This is the type of service one appreciates and I am very happy with the Practice I am under. 

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