Recently, I slipped up, and didn't take my meds for a few days when I couldn't get to the drugstore. When my doctor asked if I was staying compliant, I just said "Yes." I mean am. Most of the time. And I don't tell her I’ve been partying a lot or if I have some wierd symptom. She doesn't need to know about that unless it becomes a problem, right?
You’re not the only person who isn’t always honest with their doctor. My clients often talk to me about how they aren’t always so upfront with the truth when their doctor asks them questions. They might conveniently forget to mention something. Or let their doctor think they’re feeling fine when they’re not. Or just plain out tell an untruth. They hold back when they haven’t been following their regimen.
You’re in good company. So need to get down on yourself. But still, if you are withholding information, you may be placing your own health at risk. (As well as making it harder for your doctor to do her job.)
So the next time you have the urge to hold back on letting your doctor know everything that’s going on with you, here’s what you can do instead:
Remember that your doctor is a professional. It’s great to have a friendly relationship with your doctor. But if you are concerned about protecting your doctor’s feelings in some way, or avoiding making your doctor angry, then you are more likely to hold back on information she needs to know. As much as you may have positive feelings for your doctor, he/she is still a professional. And look at it this way: Being honest with another person is one of the ways in which we show respect.
As much as you may think you know your doctor, chances are you aren’t able to read her mind. Guessing at how your doctor might react is a waste of your time, and wastes your doctor’s time as well. This is time that could be better spent talking about what’s going on with you and deciding on any next steps that may be needed.
Don’t worry about being high-maintenance. One of the main reasons my clients tell me they withhold information from their physicians is that they don’t want to be labeled as a "high maintenance" patient or, worse yet, as a “hypochondriac” or “drama queen.” Again, enough with the mind reading! Your doctor’s job is to take care of your health. If your doctor thinks you are overreacting to a symptom, they will tell you.
Keep in mind that lack of information leads to stress. When we don’t have enough information, our minds have a way of filling in the information gaps by creating stories. And often those stories are really worst case scenarios of what could happen. Scary stores lead to stress. Along with giving you another reason to avoid learning the truth. You can do something about that gap in information, and avoid the stories your mind creates, by giving your doctor the full, up-to-the-minute report.
Remember that relationships are based on honesty. Teaming up with your physician requires an exchange of information. All of it. Being upfront about whatever you’re experiencing strengthens your relationship with your doctor. You help yourself by doing what you can to help your doctor do his/her job effectively.
Just say it. As hard as it is, the best way to talk about something uncomfortable with your doctor is to dive. In the first place, your doctor doesn’t have time to listen to you give a long apology, or your own evaluation of whether you think your symptoms are a big deal or not, before you communicate the facts. Let you doctor make that call. It’s as easy as: “Look, I need to mention a couple of things. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling ______________.” And then provide the symptoms, how often, when, and the severity. You might want to write them down on a note card ahead of time. The facts. No explanations, no apologies.
Also come clean about your lifestyle and any issues with taking your medications. Patients aren’t only known to withhold symptoms from their physician. They also avoid talking about lifestyle concerns, such as not eating healthy, not exercising, smoking, etc. As well as medications they may be using that they suspect their physician may not approve of. Remember that your doctor is not there to judge you. But she is there to help you to stay healthy. The more they know, the better.
Bottom line: Withholding information from your doctor can be downright dangerous. And it can place your health, and your life, at risk.
So back to you. It’s better to know than not to know. Be upfront with your doctor. Err on the side of too much information rather than not enough. After all, it’s your health we’re talking about. So talk!
GARY MCCLAIN, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He runs the website, JustGotDiagnosed.com.