Feature Archive

WebMD Survey: The Lies We Tell Our Doctors

45% of WebMD Readers Don't Tell Their Doctors the (Whole) Truth

By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Sept. 21, 2004 -- Do you lie to your doctor? There's about a 50-50 chance you do, a WebMD survey shows.

WebMD invited readers to respond to an online survey. The nearly 1,500 responders told us whether, when, and why they don't tell their doctors the whole truth.

See what our readers say in part 1 of our three-part series.

Lying -- and Stretching the Truth

When patients don't tell the truth, they don't always think of it as lying. Only 13% of WebMD users say they have lied to their doctor. However, another 32% -- nearly a third - admit to having "stretched the truth" with their health care providers.

Younger patients -- aged 25 to 34 -- are more likely to lie to their doctors than are patients 55 and older. Younger patients are more likely to lie about recreational drug use, sexual history, and smoking than older patients are.

Men Who Lie vs. Women Who Lie

Men and women tend to lie about the same things -- except for drinking. Men are significantly more likely than women to lie about how much they drink: 24% vs. 15%.

WebMD users say they are pretty good liars. Only 7% said their doctor had ever caught them in a lie. Yet men are twice as likely to get caught as women are. Or maybe they're just twice as likely to admit it.

The Lies We Tell Our Doctors

What do patients lie about? Here's what the WebMD survey shows:

  • 38% lied about following their doctors' orders
  • 32% lied about their diet or about how much exercise they got
  • 22% lied about smoking
  • 17% lied about sex
  • 16% lied about how much or how often they drink alcohol
  • 12% lied about recreational drug use
  • 7% lied about getting a second opinion
  • 7% lied about taking herbs, supplements, or alternative therapies
  • 6% lied about their personal or family history
  • 2% didn't tell their doctors about some of their symptoms -- or exaggerated their symptoms
  • 1% lied about feeling better
  • 1% lied about their pain
  • 1% lied about abortions or earlier pregnancies
  • 1% lied about mental health or depression
  • 3% lied about other things

Why Do We Lie to Our Doctors?

WebMD readers had many reasons to lie to their doctors:

  • 50% said they didn't want to be judged
  • 31% said the truth was just too embarrassing
  • 21% didn't think the doctor would understand
  • 9% said it was none of their doctor's business
  • 6% lied to get a particular drug or treatment
  • 2% lied so they would not get medications
  • 2% didn't want a lecture
  • 1% didn't think the lie was important
  • 1% lied because they disagreed with their doctor
  • 1% didn't want the truth to appear on the medical records or to be available to their insurance companies
  • 5% gave other reasons for lying

See what our readers say in parts 2 and 3 of our three-part series.

Part 2: What the Experts Say
Part 3: What WebMD Readers Say


Published Sept. 21, 2004.


SOURCES: Editorial Survey on WebMD Health, "Why Do You Lie to Your Doctor?" Sept. 3, 2004. Arthur Caplan, PhD, chair, department of medical ethics; and director, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Robert Klitzman, MD, assistant clinical professor; and co-director, Center for Bioethics, Columbia University, New York; and author, Mortal Secrets: Truth and Lies in the Age of AIDS, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. David L. Roberts, MD, associate professor, internal medicine, Emory University, Atlanta; and medical director, Emory executive health program. WebMD message boards.

© 2004 webMD Inc. All rights reserved.


Last Editorial Review: 5/10/2005