From Gen Z to Boomers: Which Generation Is Most Honest with Doctors?

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New research examined how often people from different generations are truthful with healthcare professionals and the reasons why they may lie about their health. Seventy Four/Getty Images
  • A new study finds most people lie to healthcare professionals.
  • Lifestyle habits are what people are most likely to be dishonest about.
  • Gen Zers topped the chart as the generation that’s telling the most fibs to healthcare professionals.

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

According to one study of over 1,000 patients, 77% of them admitted to lying about their health either directly or by omission when interacting with a healthcare professional.

And certain generations tend to fib more than others.

Gen Zers led the way, with 93% admitting to lying to healthcare professionals, especially about their sexual histories.

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

Next in line for being dishonest were:

  • Millennials (76%)
  • Gen X (75%)
  • Baby Boomers (69%)

Interestingly, each generation lied about different things.

Millennials were most likely to lie about their exercise habits. This may be due to the fact that this generation grew up during a time when going to workout facilities became popular, said Ascher.

“Working out became trendy as opposed to only being healthy. People were always conscious about weight, but this group gets most embarrassed,” he said.

Gen Xers tended to be dishonest about their alcohol consumption, while Baby Boomers told the most lies about their eating habits.

Sometimes this is due to people underestimating or ballparking their consumption to avoid uncomfortable conversations, said Melissa Murphey, DNP, APRN, and nurse practitioner in Chicago.

“They also may lack confidence in revealing their vulnerabilities or may underestimate the negative impacts associated with certain dangerous behavior,” she told Healthline.

Why do people lie about their health?

Fear of judgment was the top reason respondents said they lie to healthcare professionals. Other reasons were:

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

These reasons didn’t surprise Ascher.

“Patients get embarrassed or oftentimes wait till 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.

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

“[Still,] it is disappointing that people would risk their healthcare outcomes due to [this.]. Healthcare professionals, regardless of their position, should be extra diligent in helping to establish comfortable rapport as quickly as possible with their patients.”

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

“If you do not feel heard, it is likely that is not the provider for you. You should always feel heard and not rushed when seeing your doctor,” said Ascher.

Telehealth sessions allow for more lies

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

“Oftentimes throughout the pandemic, patients sought out telehealth in situations where they needed urgent care or where they met a provider for the first time. It is likely the patient did not have a relationship with the provider which probably led to fibbing,” said Ascher. “My return patients who utilize telehealth likely do not lie because we have already broken the ice.”

Because telehealth provides access to many people who are limited by transportation restrictions or other logical factors, Murphey said these visits need to still 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 lend some psychological distance between the patient and practitioner,” she said.

While practitioners need to be more vigilant in creating a genuine rapport during patient interaction, patients can aim to treat telehealth visits like in-person visits.

Doctors ask questions to treat, not judge

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

“I do not ask these questions so patients feel any less than human; I ask so I know if there is any advice I can offer, and even more importantly, if there are any reasons I should order an additional blood test or if a medication is warranted [and] which to stay away from,” he said.

Gathering the information might also allow him to better match symptoms with lifestyle change suggestions.

For example, if a person sees him for acid reflux but rounds down on their alcohol consumption, he may not be able to offer them the proper counseling or testing.

If someone notifies him that they are sad, depressed, anxious, or having trouble with focus and sleep but rounds down their alcohol consumption, he may not be able to offer suggestions that could make a difference.

If someone has multiple sexual partners, there are testing routines and medications he could recommend that might help keep them healthy.

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

While 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 provides us the needed information in developing our plan of care,” 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 were trained for this. A good doctor will tailor the care they deliver to you to make 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, then the relationship isn’t working, and your health is at risk.

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

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