Patients lie due to many reasons. A WebMD survey in 2004 found that 38% of respondents lied or stretched the truth about following their doctor’s orders, 32% lied about their diet and exercise, 22% lied about smoking, 17% lied about sexual habits, 16% lied about their alcohol intake and 12% lied about recreational drug use.

From a doctor’s perspective, these figures are not shocking as patients tend to see doctors as authority figures; hence, they tend to refrain from fully disclosing what they perceive to be information that is private as well as non-medical related. Here we look at how doctors can approach patients in the most effective way.

1. Be less judgmental

How patients view you as a doctor is important. If they think of you as more of a friend, they are more likely to have an open discussion with you about their problem. Needless to say, a doctor should take note of their patients’ body language, so that he will appear to be more empathetic and sensitive.

When giving medical advice, the doctor should choose his words with caution to avoid sounding judgmental towards his patients. People may also feel more connected if they know something about the doctor’s life, so the doctor can choose to share his own experience with them.

2. Help the patient to understand

It is crucial that patients understand the fact that withholding the truth may affect their treatment. The doctor should explain the potential consequences of their lying. Patients also should be convinced that their privacy is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality and will not be violated.

A doctor nonetheless needs to be a good listener first, so that he can feel their fear and anxiety before giving any advice or consultation.

3. Create a safe environment

John Bowlby proposed an evolutionary attachment theory in 1969 that suggested that humans seek proximity, comfort, and assistance from their parents when they are young, and later on in life, they look to another protective figure such as a teacher or a doctor.

This relationship further requires that the doctor responds with a sense of security. Hence, when discussing a private matter with the patient, close the door, so that the patient feels secure and protected. Doctors should also minimise the people involved during the consultation with the patient.

4. Avoid betraying the patient's trust

Patients start the relationship with their doctor with trust and confidence; doctors need to value this and refrain from violating it as much as possible. Based on a study on African-American individuals, researchers found that trust appears to facilitate care-seeking behavior and promotes patient honesty and adherence.

A doctor should also be honest and open with the patient regarding the risks and the possibility of contracting a disease or having to undergo certain treatment, as this will give the patient adequate information to make an informed decision.

Additionally, he needs to treat and respect the patient regardless of their background or status. Bear in mind that each patient is different; some may perceive individual approach as an invasion of privacy while others may not. MIMS

Read more:
Male patients often lie to their physicians: What doctors can do
Trusting medical professionals: The importance of respecting patient confidentiality
Palliative care: Why patients deserve the truth