Published on Mar 27, 2020
Authored by Krishan Thiru, MBBS, MHA, FRACGP
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed: 17/06/2020
-NPS MedicineWise: Making wise choices about medicines
-Australian Government Department of Health: Standard drinks guide
-New Zealand Ministry of Health: Alcohol
-Better Health Channel: Talking with your doctor about sensitive issues
-Health Navigator NZ: How do I get the most out of my GP visit?