Monday, March 07, 2016


Honesty is crucial in health care

When people in my parents' generation went to the doctor, whatever the doctor said was needed for their health was accepted without question. If the doctor said, "You need to have surgery" or "I’m writing a prescription for you to start insulin injections," you did it. It was that simple.

These days it's not so simple. People search the Internet for the latest medical news. Researching their symptoms on-line, they come prepared to discuss, and sometimes challenge their primary care provider (PCP) about treatment options. Being knowledgeable is great, but self-diagnosing and self-treating is not so great. It’s often better to come for a visit with your symptoms in hand, not your diagnosis. That is not to say don’t be afraid to relate your fears as well.

Honesty is needed on both sides. Your PCP needs to know vital information like how much alcohol you drink, if you smoke and how much, any medication you take — legal or illegal — and about your sexual history. An accurate history of these activities is crucial for the PCP to assess and determine a safe treatment plan for you. Don't be embarrassed and hide or keep secrets about any habits or activities you take participate in . You really can't shock the doctor; believe me when I say there is nothing he or she hasn't seen or heard before.

On the other hand, your doctor needs to be honest with you, too. This can be difficult if the doctor has bad news to deliver. It might take time to process the information. He or she needs to inform you of your diagnosis and all of the available options for treatment, so you can make an informed decision. This is difficult if you don’t agree with the doctor’s recommendation and action plan. Shared decision making may be needed to reach a satisfactory compromise. Perhaps the most important thing is to be sure you understand what you are being told and if you don’t, ask more questions.

Working together honestly and cooperatively offers the opportunity to significantly improve your quality of life and health status. And isn’t that everyone’s goal?

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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