During your most recent visit with your doctor, did you maybe “forget” to mention that you smoke or that you don’t exercise as much as you say you do? Or that you skipped taking your medicines for a week? You’re not alone! Like many people, you probably know that it’s important to talk openly and honestly with your doctor about matters related to your health. But you may not always tell the whole truth. Maybe you’re afraid that your doctor will judge you or be disappointed in you. Of course, by being less than totally honest, we run the risk of not receiving the kind of medical care we might need.
A doctor-patient relationship based on trust, honesty, and commitment is essential for working together to better your overall health. Take a few minutes to read through the list below and think about the topics you may not have been entirely open or honest about during your healthcare visits. While you’re doing that, think about why you hesitated to talk about them. Then make a promise to yourself to have the conversations you should have with him or her at your next visit.
- Your smoking habits
- How much alcohol you drink
- Any supplements you take
- Your family history
- Your diet and exercise habits
- Your mental health
- The truth about not taking your medicines
- Sensitive subjects
Your smoking habits
People either underestimate how much they smoke or don’t tell their doctor about their smoking habits at all. Maybe they feel ashamed, aren’t ready to quit, or don’t want a lecture about it. And if the doctor doesn’t bring it up, then why say anything?
Why the truth matters: Telling the truth helps your doctor be on the lookout for potential health issues like those affecting the heart or lungs. And, if you're thinking of quitting, the truth helps the doctor know how dependent you are to nicotine. That way, they can tailor a quitting plan just for you. On the other hand, if you're not ready to quit yet, it's ok to tell the doctor that too. When you are ready, they will be there to help you.
How much alcohol you drink
Alcohol is part of many people’s lives. When it comes to tracking how much alcohol you drink, a smart way to do this is by looking at the number of “Standard drinks” rather than the number of glasses you might have. For example, did you know that approximately, 100ml of wine is 1 standard drink; a small glass of full-strength beer (285ml) is 1.1 standard drinks; and a 30ml shot of spirits is 1 standard drink? More information about standard drinks is linked below under External Resources.
Why the truth matters: Talking about how much alcohol you drink is important because it can:
- Make your doctor aware of the potential for interactions between the alcohol you drink and any prescription medicines you may need to take.
- Alert your doctor to the possibility of health problems related to drinking, including heart disease, breast cancer, and pregnancy complications.
- Help you and your doctor better understand your limits and develop a plan to help you cut down on drinking if you drink excessively.
Any supplements that you take
Studies show that most people do not tell their doctor about the over-the-counter vitamins and herbal supplements they take. In one study, 558 hospital patients completed a survey to learn if they were asked about their use of supplements. Three-quarters (75%) of these patients reported that they weren’t asked about their use of supplements.
Why the truth matters: By talking to your doctor about this, your doctor can be aware of potential complications you may have from taking a supplement, and possible interactions between a supplement and any prescription medicines, you may take.
Your family history
You may hesitate to share your family history for several reasons. It may be because there are things you’d like to keep to yourself. Or maybe because you don’t think something is important.
Why the truth matters: Talking about your family history is vital because it’s information that your doctor can use to help determine your risk for developing certain diseases.
Your diet and exercise habits
Studies show that many people say that their diet and exercise habits are better than they actually are.
Why the truth matters: Without having the correct information, it can be hard for your doctor to make accurate, helpful recommendations about steps you can take to improve your health.
Your mental health
In a medical survey, 43% of people reported having trouble talking to their doctor about feelings of depression. People’s reasons for this included not wanting to take medicine, thinking that it was not a GP’s job to treat emotional problems, and fear of being labelled a psychiatric patient.
Why the truth matters: Talking about your emotional health is important because people who have depression and/or anxiety are more likely to smoke and to be obese than people who don’t have depression and/or anxiety. When left untreated, depression and anxiety have been associated with an increased risk of death. Keep in mind that mental health issues such as depression can be treated—and the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it may be.
The truth about not taking your medicines
About 50% of people in the developed world don’t take their medication as prescribed. Some reasons include: believing the medicine is not necessary; being worried about side effects; forgetting to take them; or having trouble swallowing tablets.
Why the truth matters: Your doctor needs to know if you are taking your medicines as prescribed so that he or she can make accurate decisions about your care. For example, if you say you are taking your medication when you’re not, the doctor may incorrectly assume that it isn’t working and prescribe something different. Or, they might increase the dose, which could be harmful.
While it can be uncomfortable to talk about some medical conditions with your doctor, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about health-related issues with him or her. Your doctor is there to help, not to judge you. And doctor-patient confidentiality is a crucial part of the relationship between you and your doctor.
Why the truth matters: Leaving out information about anything that could affect your health could harm your care. For example, don’t hesitate to talk about your sex life, bladder or bowel problems you may have, or any difficulty you have paying for your medicines.
You can find more tips on talking about sensitive subjects under External Resources.
- 1. Palmieri JJ, Stern TA. Lies in the doctor-patient relationship. Prim Care Campanion J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;11(4):163-168.
- 2. National Institutes of Health. Talking to Your Doctor. Accessed May 17, 2017.
- 3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Screening and Counseling. Accessed May 17, 2017.
- 4. American Heart Association. Medication Interactions: Food, Supplements and Other Drugs. Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 5. Curry LE, Richardson A, Xiao H, Niaura RS. Nondisclosure of smoking status to health care providers among current and former smokers in the United States. Health Educ Behav. 2012;40(3):266-273.
- 6. American Society of Anesthesiologists. Q&A: Stop Smoking. Accessed May 8, 2017.
- 7. Gardiner P, Sadikova E, Filippelli AC, White LF, Jack BW. Medical reconciliation of dietary supplements; don’t ask, don’t tell. Patient Educ Couns. 2015;98(4):512-517.
- 8. Cleveland Clinic. 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Appointment. Accessed May 3, 2017.
- 9. Dhurandhar NV, Schoeller D, Brown AW, et al. Energy balance measurement: when something is not better than nothing. Int J Obesity. 2015;39:1109-1113.
- 10. Bell RA, Franks P, Duberstein PR, et al. Suffering in silence: reasons for not disclosing depression in primary care. Ann Fam Med. 2011;9:439-446.
- 11. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression: What you need to know. U 2015. (NIH Publication No. 15-3561).
- 12. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Mental Health By the Numbers. Accessed June 26, 2017.
- 13. Pratt LA, Druss BG, Manderscheid RW, Walker ER. Excess mortality due to depression and anxiety in the United States: results from a nationally representative survey. Gen Hosp Psychiat. 2016;39:39-45.
- 14. Brown MT, Bussell J, Dutta S, Davis K, Strong S. Medication adherence: truth and consequences. Am J Med Sci. 2016;351(4):387-399.
- 15. Brown MT, Sinsky CA. Medication Adherence: We didn’t ask and they didn’t tell. Fam Pract Management. March-April 2013. 25-30. Accessed May 17, 2017.
- 16. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia). Accessed July 18, 2017.
- 17. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction. Accessed July 18, 2017.
- 18. Cleveland Clinic. You Can—and Should—Talk to Your Doctor About Domestic Abuse. Accessed July 18, 2017.
- 19. Food and Drug Administration. Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults. Accessed August 7, 2017.
- 20. Joslin Diabetes Center. Sexual Dysfunction—Talking It Over. Accessed August 7, 2017.
- 21. The American Academy of Family Physicians. Confidentiality, Patient/Physician. Accessed September 1, 2017.
- 22. West R. Tobacco smoking: Health impact, prevalence, correlates and interventions. Psychology & Health. 2017;32(8):1018-1036
- 23. Australian Government Department of Health Standard drinks guide. Accessed January 8, 2020.
- 24. . New Zealand Ministry of Health: Alcohol. Accessed January 8, 2020
- 25. Usherwood T. Encouraging adherence to long-term medication. Aust Prescr 2017;40: 147-50
- 26. Sabaté E, editor. Adherence to long-term therapies: evidence for action. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2003.