7 Dangerous Mistakes Patients Make

Family Health, Featured Article, Power to the Patient
on March 15, 2011
Mom and daughter with the doctor.

Nobody’s perfect—that’s for sure. But one place you want to avoid making mistakes is at the doctor’s office. Certain slip-ups that may seem innocent can keep you from getting the best care, and even end up harming your health. Take note of these seven “don’ts” before you call for your next appointment.

1. Faking or exaggerating symptoms to get an appointment. Sure, you want to get in to see your doc, STAT. But saying you have a fever when you don’t—or bumping up your temperature a few degrees—could lead to improper care. “That’s dangerous because it could lead to a patient receiving a prescription for medicine they don’t really need,” says Dr. Yvonne Thornton, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and high-risk obstetrician at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.

2. Waiting until the end of the office visit to divulge a worrisome symptom. Have you ever ended an appointment with, “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask about this rash,” or odor, pain, sensation? You’re not the only one. But if your allotted appointment time is running out, your doctor may rush an evaluation and not give you the attention you need.

“If you have a new and possibly serious problem, lead with it, even if you have to just blurt it out,” says Dr. Dana Simpler, an internist and family physician at Mercy Medical in Baltimore, MD. “If you’re uncomfortable mentioning a symptom of concern, write it down on a note you bring to the appointment. At the start of the exam, tell your doctor ‘I have these concerns’ and hand your doctor the note.”

3. Hiding your family history. Not sharing your grandmother’s thyroid cancer or mother’s heart disease is dangerous because it doesn’t give your doctor a clear picture of your potential health risks for life-threatening diseases.

“Doctors need to know about your family’s health history in order to determine what screenings and routine tests you need ,” says Dr. Don Darst, an internal medicine specialist at The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb.. “They’re not ‘just wondering,’ trying to pry or resurrect painful memories about a loved one’s health.”

No detail is too small. “Even though she was in her 90s, it’s important to know if your great-grandmother had a stroke,” says Darst. “That gives doctors a clearer picture of your current health as well as any potential health risks.”

4. Self-diagnosing. Walking into the office with a laundry list of things you’re certain you have can delay the right diagnosis and treatment of a symptom. “It often leads to perceived symptoms that send doctors off on the wrong diagnostic trail,” says Dr. Michael Abrahams, an obstetrician and gynecologist in New York City and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine.

“Doctors appreciate educated and informed patients. They’re not fond of patients telling them what they have because they have the same symptoms as a friend, sister or co-worker,” adds. Abrahams. “Stick to giving details of your symptoms instead of what you think might be causing them.”

5. Making too much small talk,It’s nice to ask about your doctor’s kids or mention your vacation, but save chit chat for after all your medical questions and concerns are addressed.

The first part of an appointment with your doctor is reserved for your well-being. “That’s when your doctor is concentrating on your health history, reviewing his notes about your care and thinking about what he wants to address in the visit. It’s not the time to break their train of thought,” Darst says.

Interrupting your doctor when he’s reviewing your chart or medical history could make him forget to ask important diagnostic questions.

6. Playing doctor—and not fessing up to it. Ever self-treated your indigestion, sore throat, rash or other health maladies, and then “forgotten” to tell your doc about it? You need to come clean—especially if you’re taking a dietary supplement, trying a new diet or using a friend’s prescription,. Not only can a secret “remedy” mask other symptoms that might help your doctor diagnose you, Simpler says they could interact with your doctor’s treatment plan.

Most doctors are open to exploring alternative treatments in addition to conventional medicine. They just need to know what you’re taking or doing to make sure it helps — not hurts — their prescribed course of treatment.

7. Making excuses for your weight. Your doctor can tell if you’ve not been exercising or frequently stopping by the fast food drive-thru. “If you’re having trouble sticking to a prescribed exercise or diet, tell your doctor. There are probably alternatives or adjustments that can be made,” says Thornton. “Doctors know it’s hard to stick to a healthy diet. Just remember we’re partners in your health so you should always be above board and up front.”