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 important for working together with the goal 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 completely 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
A recent study showed that 1 in 10 people who smoke don’t tell their doctor about it. That’s about 6 million smokers nationwide. People reported they didn’t tell their doctor that they currently smoke or used to smoke because they felt ashamed, weren’t ready to quit, or didn’t want a lecture about it. What’s more, about half of patients said that their doctor did not ask them directly about smoking.
Even if you understand the harmful effects of smoking and don’t want to be told about them, your doctor should know if you smoke so that he or she can be on the lookout for potential health issues.
How much alcohol you drink
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 38 million people in the U.S. drink too much. And only 1 in 6 adults talk with their doctor about their drinking.
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.
All of the supplements 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.
By talking to your doctor about this, your doctor can be aware of potential complications you may have from taking a supplement, and of possible interactions between a supplement and any prescription medicines you may take.
Your family history
You may hesitate to share your family history for a number of 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.
Talking about your family history is important 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. 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 primary care doctor’s job to treat emotional problems; and fear of being labeled a psychiatric patient.
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 my medicines
About 50% of people in the U.S. don’t take their medicines as prescribed. In certain diseases, that number rises to 80%. People have many reasons for not telling their doctor that they’re not taking their medicines. One reason is that they don’t want to appear to be questioning the skill of their doctor.
It’s important for your doctor 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 medicine when you’re not, the doctor may incorrectly assume the medicine isn’t working and prescribe something different.
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 key part of the relationship between you and your doctor.
Leaving out information about anything that could affect your health could have a negative effect on 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.
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