How to get patients to open up

Physicians rely heavily on information from patients to make correct diagnoses and treatment recommendations, but up to half of patients admit that they don't always tell their doctors everything they should.

There are a number of common reasons patients intentionally or unintentionally obscure the truth, according to a new report from EHR selection firm Software Advice, and a corresponding arsenal of tools physicians can use to help patients be more forthcoming.

People most frequently fib to their doctors to avoid hearing a lecture or feeling embarrassed, according to the survey of 3,075 U.S. patients. Not surprisingly, the answers they fudge most often relate to drug, alcohol or tobacco use, followed by diet, sexual activity and current or alternative medications.

To conduct more accurate patient interviews, physicians should check out research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirming that support and collaboration with patients yields better results, at least when it comes to weight loss, than scolding, judging or confronting patients about their behavior.

To help patients feel assured they won't be judged, physicians can share their own experiences, such as struggles to quit smoking or eat healthfully, suggested Leana Wen, M.D., emergency physician at George Washington University and author of "When Doctors Don't Listen."

Further, doctors should make a conscious effort to set their personal biases aside before talking to patients about their lifestyle habits, noted Davis Liu, M.D., a family physician and author of "Thrifty Patient." "[For example,] if a doctor appears [unwilling] to hear a patient on why he or she drinks alcohol at unhealthy levels, it is unlikely this person will answer a doctor honestly," he said.

Finally, 19 percent of patients surveyed said they'd be more forthright about their health information if doctors explained the consequences of providing misinformation, such as misdiagnosis and dangerous drug interactions. Despite awareness of privacy laws such as HIPAA, physicians should also explicitly remind patients that their information will be kept confidential, the survey found.

To learn more:
- read the report
- see the study