This is usually my mantra to every new patient who walks in my consultation room: ‘My job is to keep you healthy, please promise me in advance that you won’t withhold any important information with regards to your health.’
I do this in trying to create friendly environment for my patient to be open to me about their choices and health no matter how weird it may sound as well as to remind them that their truth-telling is for their better treatment outcome.
It’s no news that many patients lie or withhold important medical information from their doctors, and so many medical studies have proven this over and over.
Speaking from experience, I often find a lot of patients admitting to not telling me everything that they could have, and this is problematic because withholding relevant information could lead to dangerous outcomes.
Despite our best intentions, humans aren’t always the most honest of species. From little white lies to selective reporting and glossing over of details, there are a lot of ways that we skirt the truth. And we’re more likely to do so when the topic is sensitive or makes us uncomfortable in some way.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that people aren’t always completely honest with their doctors.
A recent study published in the JAMA Network Open, an open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association, found that 60 to 80 per cent of patients have been less than fully forthright with their doctors at some point.
And this study concluded that women are as twice as likely to lie to their doctors than men. That’s a lot of untruths told for a wide variety of reasons. And the reason as to why patients are not open to their doctors, some of their reasons are, either the fear of embarrassments or to avoid being judged by their doctors.
But one thing is for sure, for best results, the doctor-patient relationship should be built on mutual trust and honesty. This means despite all fears of embarrassments and being judged, patients should know that doctors have their backs. And any doctor, will assure you that confidentiality and privacy will always be maintained.
Talking to your doctor: Tips and ways
For the better treatment outcome therefore, here are ways that could help you be at ease and improve your communication with your doctor.
The first important thing is to make sure the doctor-patient conversation is friendly during consultation. A friendly conversation will make you more comfortable and improve communication. And if you really can’t or you notice that your doctor doesn’t create friendly environment for you to entrust him with all your issues, maybe it is time for you to find another doctor who matches your personality. And let me remind you this, it’s one of the rights of any patient to say no to a doctor and choose another doctor.
Give your doctor information even before your doctor asks you.
You know important things about your symptoms and your health history. Tell your doctor what you think he or she needs to know.
Remember that it’s important to tell your doctor personal information even if it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Manier times, patients may feel something is embarrassing or simply trivial but it could be an important clue for a medical professional to be able to arrive at a diagnosis.
Not everything is easy to discuss, but your privacy is protected by some strong laws. So go ahead and ask if, for example, orgasms seem to be giving you headaches. That rash could be from a new laundry detergent, or from an insect bite.
If you’re having two or three alcoholic beverages each day but only admit to a couple drinks a week, you could get a completely incorrect diagnosis. Even the way your urine smells could signal something. You never know.
The author is the Medical Doctor based in Dar es salaam.