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Dishonest With the Doctor

You’re in the doctor’s office, sitting on a cold table in a flimsy gown, and the doctor is asking some very personal questions.

“Are you sexually active? How long have you had that pain? How much do you weigh? Do you smoke? Do you do drugs? How often do you exercise?”

How do you answer? Do you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or does your embarrassment get the best of you − you knock 10 pounds off your weight, tone down your sex life and make your diet sound a lot healthier than it actually is?

Curious to know how many Americans are honest with their doctors and how many aren’t, we surveyed 2,058 people to find out. Here’s what we learned.

We’re … Often Dishonest With Our Doctors

While the majority of survey respondents reported a high level of honesty with their doctors, more than 50 percent of survey respondents across all age groups reported that they were only “usually honest” with their physician.

Most of us do tell the occasional fib to our doctors. Only 28 to 39 percent of any age group said they were always honest at the doctor’s office, which means more than 60 percent of us have told  perhaps to our detriment − at least one lie on the exam table.  

Dishonesty at the Doctor’s: Why We Lie

Survey respondents reported being mostly honest with their health care providers, but what about those times when they weren’t? What makes us want to tell a lie or two to our docs?

The top reason women lied to their doctor, our survey showed, was a fear of being judged (the same reason that women commonly lie about their weight outside the doctor’s office.) Just more than 19 percent of women (and around 14 percent of men) responded they lied because they didn’t want to feel judged.  

Men, on the other hand, were more likely to not have a reason for lying (15.2 percent). They were also more likely to feel that their health wasn’t the doctor’s business (2.6 percent) and that they didn’t want to be embarrassed (9.7 percent).

Substance Use, Abuse and Truth at the Doctor

Embarrassment, shame, and fear of judgment may be the most common reasons for lying in the exam room, but what do patients lie about the most?

We asked our survey respondents if they were honest when their doctor asked about drug or alcohol use. The overwhelming answer? Always. More than 60 percent of respondents across all age groups said they always tell the truth about substance use.

Interestingly, the percentage of those who always told the truth increased steadily with age. While 61.2 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they always tell the truth, an astounding 90.5 percent of those 65 or older said they always tell the truth. This may have to do with the fact that drug use is more common among a younger demographic.

Hiding Behind Smoke

The same trend  that we become more honest as we age  seems to apply to smoking. Just under 76 percent of survey respondents aged 18 to 24 said they always tell their doctor the truth about their smoking habits, compared to 91 percent of those aged 55 to 64, and 95 percent of those 65 and older.

Which Drugs Inspire Lies?

While more than half of our survey respondents reported always being honest with their doctor about drugs, almost 15 percent of participants aged 18 to 24 and about 5 percent of those 65 or older said they were only sometimes, rarely or never honest with their doctor about their drug use.

This is bad news for patients, as uninformed doctors can end up prescribing drugs that interact negatively with other substances, which can lead to complications, pain or even death. Lying about the drugs you’ve taken could cost you your life.

Which drugs are most likely to inspire lies? The answer – by a large margin – was marijuana. Likely, this is a reflection of the fact that more Americans use marijuana than any other drug.

The Truth About Our Food and Exercise Habits

Another thing we lie about is diet and exercise. After all, who wants to admit they’ve been skipping the treadmill for a hefty slice of chocolate cake?

According to our findings, men were more likely to always tell their doctor the truth, while only about a quarter of women say their physicians know the whole truth about their health habits.

Of course, those who actually practice healthy habits are the least likely to lie about them.

Your Doctor and the Whole Truth

Most of us tell our doctors the truth … at least some of the time. But the reality is that some of the time isn’t good enough. Doctors are there to improve your health − and not knowing the whole story about you can lead to real harm: drugs that shouldn’t mix, missed diagnoses and health plans unsuitable to your situation.

Sure, it’s embarrassing to talk about your sex life, bowel movements, or weight  and even more scary to tell the truth about your drug habits  but it’s also essential to your health and long-term well-being. Which is why we at NetQuote analyzed this data in the first place: because making sure you’re as safe as possible is our whole mission. If part of what’s holding you back from pure honesty in the doctor’s office is your health insurance, get a quote and change things up today.



We asked 2,058 people about their habits and what they told their doctors about their habits. We also asked them about when they lie to their physicians and why.

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