Honesty Between You and Your Doctor Can Save Your Life

Apparently, doctors and patients have trust issues. Patients often admit that when in a doctor’s appointment, they don’t always tell the truth. Medical questions can be embarrassing and patients often blurt out half truths without missing a beat. Children and teens are the most susceptible to this, especially if parents are in the room. (Try asking a teen about his sexual history if mom is in the room. You are not going to get very far.)

Not being honest with your doctor has serious consequences. You might get misdiagnosed, or even worse, your doctor might miss a serious clue to a significant health problem. If you are embarrassed, don’t be. Doctors have probably heard it all, so you have nothing to worry about.

A new study suggests that doctors are not always honest with the patients either. Doctors were polled and a majority fessed up to not always telling the patient how dire his or her medical situation might be. This might be because doctor’s do not want to be the bearer of bad news, or they might worry that letting the patient know how bad it is will get them down, inhibiting recovery. In my opinion, not being honest about a bad prognosis is a pretty big deal. If the prognosis is not looking good, why give the patient false hope? Doctors could just be setting their patients up for failure. And knowing the severity of an issue might change how a patient will proceed with medical care. For example, if a man thinks his cancer is not that bad, when a doctor knows that he has a slim chance of surviving, why go through the pain and torture of chemo therapy? Knowing the exact details of the medical situation can directly change the process of treatment. Patients and their families need to know.

Another alarming statistic is that 1 in 5 doctors polled in this study admitted to not disclosing a medical mistake to a patient. The main reason? Fear of getting sued. In this sue happy world, doctors are always in fear of getting sued. Many doctors have malpractice insurance for such occasions, but a long, nasty and public law suit can ruin a doctor’s career and finances. So, sure, keeping medical mistakes private is OK. Wrong. Not disclosing medical mistakes is ethically wrong. Doctors take an oath to protect their patients, and admitting to a wrong is part of that, especially if the wrong is life threatening. Interestingly enough, doctors who were polled agreed that doctors should be open and honest with patients, yet 20 percent admit to hiding mistakes.

Do doctors plan on being dishonest with their patients to get ahead? I definitely hope not, and I tend to try and see the best in people. Doctors are so used to patients accepting blindly any medical advice, and patients need to be more (kindly) demanding about what they want to know.

That being said, dishonesty between patients and doctors will do nothing to advance our overall medical health. The burden relies on both doctor and patient.

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