From Gen Z to baby boomers: Which generation is the most honest with doctors?

From Gen Z to baby boomers: Which generation is the most honest with doctors?

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New research has looked at how often people of different generations are honest with healthcare professionals and why they may lie about their health. Seventy-Four/Getty Images
  • A new study reveals that most people lie to medical professionals.
  • Lifestyle habits are what people are most likely to be dishonest about.
  • Gen Zers topped the charts as generation that tells the most lies to health professionals.

There’s something about being at the doctor’s that ignites the urge to lie and hide the truth.

According to a study of more than 1,000 patients, 77% of them admitted to lying about their health, either directly or by omission, during an interaction with a healthcare professional.

And some generations tend to lie more than others.

Gen Z led the way, with 93% admitting to lying to medical professionals, particularly about their sexual history.

“Gen Zers are so nervous about going to the doctor for fear of judgment,” Dr. Eric Ascher, a family physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline.

The next in line to be dishonest were:

  • Millennials (76%)
  • Generation X (75%)
  • Baby boomers (69%)

Interestingly, each generation lied about different things.

Millennials were the most likely to lie about their exercise habits. That may be because this generation grew up at a time when workout facilities became popular, Ascher said.

“Exercise has become fashionable rather than being healthy. People were always weight conscious but this group is the most embarrassed,” he said.

Gen Xers tend to be dishonest about their drinking, while baby boomers tell the most lies about their eating habits.

Sometimes that’s because people underestimate or rate their drinking to avoid uncomfortable conversations, said Melissa Murphey, DNP, APRN and nurse practitioner in Chicago.

“They may also lack the confidence to reveal their vulnerabilities or underestimate the negative impacts associated with certain dangerous behaviors,” she told Healthline.

Fear of judgment was the main reason respondents reported lying to healthcare professionals. The other reasons were:

  • Embarrassment
  • Shame
  • Felt judged by a former medical professional
  • Denial and avoidance of the truth
  • Fear of insurance records

These reasons did not surprise Ascher.

“Patients are embarrassed or often wait until the end of the visit or the next visit to open up to their provider once they feel comfortable in the doctor-patient relationship,” he said.

Murphy agreed. She said many patients need to develop a relationship with their practitioner before disclosing personal information.

“[Still,] it is disappointing that people are risking their health care outcomes due to [this.]. Healthcare professionals, regardless of their position, need to be extra diligent to help build a comfortable relationship with their patients as quickly as possible. »

Of the 23% of patients who were completely honest with healthcare providers, 64% said they did not always feel heard.

“If you don’t feel heard, chances are this isn’t the provider for you. You should always feel heard and not rush when you see your doctor,” Ascher said.

Overall, patients were more likely to be dishonest with practitioners in telehealth settings.

“Often throughout the pandemic, patients have used telehealth in situations where they needed urgent care or when meeting a provider for the first time. It’s likely that the patient didn’t have a relationship with the provider, which likely led to the lying,” Ascher said. “My returning patients using telehealth probably aren’t lying because we’ve already broken the ice.”

Because telehealth provides access to many people who are limited by transportation restrictions or other logical factors, Murphey said such visits should always be an option. However, if in-person visits with a healthcare provider are possible, she said that’s still the best option.

“The remote setting can create some psychological distance between patient and practitioner,” she said.

While practitioners need to be more vigilant in creating a genuine rapport when interacting with patients, patients may aim to treat telehealth visits as in-person visits.

During medical visits, Ascher said people don’t want to be “parented” by their provider about information they already know. For example, he said most patients know that too much alcohol, takeout, limited exercise, and not eating a lot of vegetables aren’t ideal, but he still has to ask about those habits.

“I don’t ask these questions to make patients feel less than human; I ask to know if there is any advice I can offer, and more importantly, if there are any reasons why I should order an additional blood test or if medication is warranted [and] something to stay away from,” he said.

Gathering information might also allow her to better match symptoms with suggestions for lifestyle changes.

For example, if a person sees him for acid reflux but rounds up his drinking, he may not be able to offer the appropriate counseling or testing.

If someone advises him that he is sad, depressed, anxious or has trouble concentrating and sleeping, but he rounds up his drinking, he may not be in able to make suggestions that could make a difference.

If someone has multiple sex partners, there are testing routines and medications they might recommend that might help them stay healthy.

“I never ask patients personal questions to be curious or intrusive, and we ask a ton of questions on your first visit, but it allows me to tailor the appropriate care to you, to keep you healthy,” Ascher said.

As providers ask these questions, Murphey noted that they are trained to consider a patient’s mental well-being and respect their emotional vulnerability.

“We want our patients to be successful in achieving their healthcare goals, and understanding the full picture gives us the information we need to develop our care plan,” she said.

If you’re afraid to share information because of embarrassment, Ascher said healthcare providers have heard and seen it all. “Nothing is ‘TMI.’ We have been trained for this. A good doctor will tailor the care they give you so that you feel seen and heard,” he said.

Finding that doctor should be your prerogative, he added. If you feel judged by your provider and don’t feel comfortable being open and honest with them, the relationship isn’t working and your health is at risk.

“Sometimes finding a good primary care provider is like dating someone. You have to find one that you connect with,” Ascher said.

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