Doctor needs the whole truth to treat you well

Myra's Medical Memo

By Myra Howard

Telling the truth is something we are taught to do beginning in childhood. When we didn’t tell the truth, somehow, Mom always knew. Was it the way we said it or because we had our fingers crossed behind our back?

As we got older, we would hear the expression “little white lies,” so maybe it was OK to not always tell the truth. And on TV, we heard people say they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But to make the show more exciting, that wasn’t always the truth.

Many people think they always tell the truth, but does that include what you say your weight is on your driver’s license? Do you say you always obey the law, but maybe go over the speed limit?

So, what does the truth have to do with your health? Let’s start with your health history.

It is vital that the information you provide be truthful. If the question is: Do you smoke? and you answer no, your health care provider won’t know that you chew tobacco; just stopped smoking for the seventh time; you’re a closet smoker; or you smoke marijuana. A chest X-ray may be indicated, depending on your truthful answer.

If the question asks about alcohol and you say you drink occasionally, what does that really mean? I’ve had people tell me they drink only on weekends, but if I don’t ask, they don’t tell me they have 8 drinks at a time. If we know the truth, this might explain an abnormal blood test or a cause of the symptoms they come in with.

And when the health history asks what medications you take, it is extremely important to list all medications, including ones prescribed for you, ones you buy over the counter, herbal medications and supplements, and even the ones you “borrow” from someone else. If we don’t know the whole truth, we might prescribe a new medication that will interact with something you’re taking and cause a dreadful reaction.

Try to remember all of your surgical procedures, including those cosmetic surgeries that you don’t want anyone to know about. List your family’s health issues, because this will give us a clue to any genetic issues that may arise.

And please be honest with us about any mental health problems you have had or are currently having. This is not a separate topic; this is a vital part of who you are. Omission of any information, even information that may be embarrassing to you, can lead to a missed diagnosis, unnecessary treatment, or delay in getting the proper care.

And finally, please let us know if anyone else is involved in your health care. Is there a specialist involved? Are you getting complementary medical care, such as acupuncture, or are you seeing a counselor? All of this is relevant to who you are and the state of your health.

Remember that there are laws regarding medical confidentiality to protect you. To give you the best care we need not just the truth, but the whole truth.