- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

For shame, ladies. The majority of the nation’s women — 52 percent — lie to their doctors during office visits and more than a quarter are not concerned about the health consequences of their deception, according to research released this week.

One in four pretend they heed medical advice or follow prescribed drug protocols. Twenty-four percent lie about their diet and exercise and 13 percent would have their physicians believe they don’t smoke, according to a survey of 526 women — ages 25 to 49 — by Synovate, a New York-based research firm.

Their reasons are emotional: 64 percent don’t want a lecture, 38 percent don’t want to be “judged,” 19 percent are just plain embarrassed or uncomfortable.

“Little white lies are not OK when it comes to your health,” said Dr. Nancy Jasper, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University. “The information they keep from their health care providers could negatively impact their health.”

But the ladies are not alone.

There’s a 50-50 chance that all patients lie to their doctors, according to a survey of 1,500 adults conducted in 2004 by Web MD, an online consumer medical resource. Both men and women lie to their doctors about the usual stuff — following orders, dieting, smoking. But they also misrepresent their sexual practices, alcohol and drug use, whether they had received a second opinion or taken herbal remedies, their family health history, and the presence of pain or depression.

The reasons? Half didn’t want the doctor to judge them, and 31 percent were embarrassed. One in five thought the doctor “wouldn’t understand,” and 9 percent thought the information “wasn’t the doctor’s business.” Others fibbed to either get certain drugs or avoid them, or in fear that the “truth” would appear on their permanent medical record.

Some people, however, just want to be “good” patients.

Researchers at the John Hopkins School of Medicine monitored patient use of inhalers and found that almost three-fourths said they used the device as per instructions. In reality, 15 percent used it correctly. An additional 14 percent tampered with the inhaler to make themselves look good, the researchers said.

The fibbing phenomenon has been common enough to prompt the National Institutes of Health to issue a booklet about doctor/patient communications. “Be honest,” the publication advises. “It is tempting to say what you think the doctor wants to hear.”

But many people see doctors in heroic terms and may be intimidated.

“We put doctors on a pedestal right next to God, yet we don’t want them to act superior, belittle us or intimidate us,” one cancer patient told researchers at the Mayo Clinic last year who assembled a list of “ideal” physician behaviors. Patients pine for their doctor to be confident, empathetic and humane.

But doctors also fib on occasion. Surveys from the University of Michigan and Georgetown University Medical Center found that up to 57 percent of doctors said they would deceive insurance companies to obtain what they considered proper coverage for their patients.

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