Survey finds 23% of patients have lied to their doctor — but why?

Twenty-three per cent of people have lied to their doctor, a new survey has found.

Among the most popular topics people say they fib about are smoking (46 per cent), exercise (43 per cent), drinking habits (38 per cent) and sexual partners (29 per cent).

The survey, conducted by life insurance company TermLife2Go, collected responses from 500 people — and the results provide an eye-opening glimpse into the average doctor-patient relationship.

The results reveal an interesting breakdown between genders: 50 per cent of men say they’ve lied about alcohol, compared to 32 per cent of women. However, more women (33 per cent) lied about sexual partners than men (21 per cent).

This could be because of “norms for men and women” set up by society, Dr. Clark Madsen said in the report.

“They’ll tell you what they think you want to hear and they base that off of culture norms,” he said.

“What men and women see as acceptable behaviour is different.”

Age also proved to have an effect on the types of lies people tell. Patients older than 35 are more likely to lie about exercise habits, while patients younger than 25 are more likely to lie about smoking.

Why do people lie?

When asked why they lie, respondents provided a wide range of reasons: to avoid discrimination (31 per cent) and to be taken more seriously (22 per cent) were the most common.

According to the report, one man said he lied to his doctor about alcohol consumption to avoid a lecture about drinking too much.

There are many reasons someone might conceal the truth from their doctor, said Devon Greyson, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Some lie, minimize or omit information because they don’t trust the doctor or the healthcare system,” Greyson said. For example, this can happen if a patient has had past negative experiences with biased providers.

Another reason people might be untruthful is to “get what they want,” said Greyson. “For example, emphasizing certain symptoms and downplaying others in order to get a certain test or prescription they feel would be beneficial.”

Ultimately, Greyson thinks it comes down to social desirability bias — “the human tendency to give answers we think will reflect well on us rather than the unvarnished truth.”

Exercise and smoking are prime examples of topics where social desirability bias can have an affect.

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