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Things your patients won’t tell you

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“Everybody lies.”

That’s the mantra of Dr. Gregory House, and it’s not just true on a fictional drama like House. Are your patients lying to you? As a nurse, you’ve come across your fair share of fibbing cases, and you know some patients will go to great lengths to cover up something they don’t want you to know.

Fortunately, nurses are seasoned pros in sniffing out the truth. You’re trained to phrase questions in a specific way and remain non-judgmental, no matter how crazy a patient’s story may be. Patients who lie, cheat and mislead their way around you are nothing new. The famous physician, Hippocrates, told his students that patients often lied when talking about their meds, and that was way back in 400 B.C.!

The only thing that varies is what they lie about. Check out our list of common things patients won’t tell you, no matter what.

Your patient won’t tell you…

…How Much it Hurts

Pain is one of our most acute sensations; it’s one of the first symptoms people recognize when something is wrong. Some patients will pull Oscar-worthy performances when it comes to pain just to get a dose of Vicodin, while others dismiss the sensation entirely. Of course, you know to be aware of drug-seeking behavior, and to think twice about hopping a patient up on morphine. No pain, no gain.
…How They Got Injured/Sick

You’d think patients would at least be forthcoming about why they’re in the hospital. After all, they do want to get better, right? Whether it’s making up a creative story about how they dislocated their shoulder, to covering up the real cause behind a mysterious illness, patients don’t always come clean, even when it’s in their best interest. Some patients will even fake their symptoms, hoping to squeeze in a last-minute appointment with the doctor, or to score some medication.

…About Their Sexual History

Sex is always a delicate issue to talk about, not just for the patient, but for nurses as well. You never know what the patients’ circumstances are, and what to expect. Patients may be underage, victims of rape, hiding an affair, following religious beliefs, or simply be embarrassed to reveal the details of the situation. Language barriers, cultural differences, and other social factors also come into play too.
…If They’ve Been Taking Their Meds

People forget. It happens. And for sick patients, remembering to take their meds isn’t always easy. Older patients have a harder time trying to remember multiple combinations of pills that need to be taken on different days. What’s difficult is when patients try to fake it, pretending they’ve been diligent in taking their medication; this is dangerous not only for the patient’s health, but bad for you and the doctor, who makes medical decisions based on this kind of information.

…About Their Medical History

Getting the truth about a patient’s medical history is like trying to find out about your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends – in other words, a painful process. Sure, some patients will fess up, but for others, their medical history is a little personal. Plus, patients often don’t realize the importance of certain medical facts – like that sprained ankle three months ago, or the removal of their wisdom teeth last year. Every detail counts.

…About Their Bad Habits

Diet, exercise, drugs, drinking; if there’s a vice, there’s a lie waiting to cover it up. Bad habits are hard to break, and even harder to admit. It’s natural for patients to want to save face and seem healthier than they are. But it’s your job to make them realize that it’s in their best interest to tell it like it is.

Unfortunately, what patients don’t tell you often means more work for you, and expensive tests and procedures for them–not to mention the risk of misdiagnosis. Some patients get intimidated in a hospital environment, surrounded by sterile equipment and daunting medical professionals. More often than not, patients fear being judged for their lifestyle, or seek to impress doctors with tales of their good behavior. So the next time you catch a patient in a lie, go easy!

Thanks to Scrubs contributor NursingLink for this story! Do you have anything to add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

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3 Responses to Things your patients won’t tell you

  1. Alyce

    As a budding nursing student, I was surprised to learn that people often lie about their pain level.

  2. Teri

    As a nurse in a large company that has aprox 10 hospital and numerous clinics, I dont tell everything because I fear that my coworkers will look at my electronic medical record. Not that there is anything at bad in there, but it is none of anyone’s business.
    Even though we track it at my company, I dont trust the system.

  3. I think many patients lie because they fear that if they tell the truth they will be judged, or if they don’t indicate a stronger pain level they will still be in pain after you medicate them.

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