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Do you lie to your doctor?

By Ian Hull

Your annual physical is approaching, and you’re still averaging three to four alcoholic drinks per night – despite the fact that you told your doctor last year that you were going to cut back.

At your appointment, your doctor reviews her notes and asks how the drinking is going. You surprise yourself by blurting out a complete lie – that you’re now going drink-free every other night and have effectively cut your drinking in half.

Your doctor is pleased, and she begins her examination. In your mind, you move on too, but with one perplexing question: why did you lie?

More common than you think

First, if you do lie to your doctor, you’re not alone. In a recent survey carried out by the University of Utah, about 80 per cent of respondents admitted they lie to – or conceal information from – their doctor on issues that could have health implications. The people most likely to do this were women, younger patients, and those who rated their own health as poor.

The top three reasons?

  1. Not wanting to be judged or lectured
  2. Not wanting to hear how harmful their behaviour is
  3. Not wanting to be embarrassed.

This recent CBC article has more information on the research.

A new approach

Whether you blame this lying on preachy doctors who scare people into not fessing up, or on cowardly patients who don’t own up to their behaviours, one point is crystal clear: lying to your doctor does nothing to advance your health needs.

With more health professionals now available online (either by email, chat or video conference), we now have the tools to move to a more non-judgmental “health coaching” model, with regular check-ins on areas of concern.

For example, a regular smoker will still have an annual physical with their doctor, but rather than dealing with the issue of smoking annually in a single (dreaded) conversation, the doctor diverts the behavioural elements to a nurse practitioner with experience in smoking cessation who provides online coaching on a regular basis. Even if the smoking continues, the nurse practitioner can encourage the person to adopt other behaviours that at least move the needle on health (“hey, how about walking to work twice a week – is that doable?”). And with electronic medical records, they can add any changes to your file, so that your doctor stays in the loop.

In short, we free up doctors to focus on physical health needs at annual physicals (such as blood pressure and heart and lung functions) and rely on encouraging, non-judgmental health coaches to focus on behaviours that may be harming our health (such as risky sex, poor eating, gambling or drug and alcohol issues).

Some of these models exist today in various forms. So, if you’re tired of your own “dance with the truth” at your annual physical, ask your doctor about health coaching alternatives.

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