You've probably heard you shouldn't hide anything from your doctors because they've seen it all, quite frankly. Plus, fibbing at a checkup is pretty counterproductive.
Still, the doctor's office can be an intimidating place, and you may feel nervous to speak freely, ask certain questions or raise concerns. This is your reminder that your doctor wants to help you, and the best way to help them do their job is to be open and honest.
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To make your routine checkups more effective, we asked primary care physicians (PCPs) for their perspective. Here, they share the things they wish their patients would stop doing so they can deliver the best possible care.
1. Being Dishonest About Your Lifestyle Choices
It's routine for your doctor to ask you questions about your use of tobacco or alcohol products. They may also ask you whether you vape or use recreational drugs.
Because there are known risks of using these products, you may feel a little embarrassed to admit it to a health care professional, but being dishonest prevents your doctor from having a complete understanding of your lifestyle habits that may affect your health.
"Health care providers aren't there to judge your choices," Nora Lansen, MD, a family medicine specialist in New York City and the Virtual Clinical Director at Galileo, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "We don't expect anyone to be perfect."
Lying about your alcohol consumption is a big one, Dr. Lansen says, especially because there's a link between drinking alcohol and breast cancer. In fact, it's one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
"Having this awareness might change your decision about drinking that third glass of wine if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, for example," Dr. Lansen says, adding that this thinking holds true for most lifestyle choices.
This also applies to your medical, mental health and sexual history. You might be asked if you have had any surgeries or hospitalizations in the past, any medications you've been prescribed and whether you've engaged in risky sex. It can be uncomfortable to share information you want to keep private, but it may be relevant to your appointment.
Ultimately, your doctor wants to have an honest conversation with you about your wellbeing, and that can't happen if you withhold information. So, answer questions truthfully and don't assume your care team is judging you.
2. Forgetting to Mention the Medications You’re Taking
When you see your PCP, be prepared to share any medications you've been prescribed — even if a different doctor or specialist wrote the script.
Elena Zamora, MD, a family medicine physician at UTHealth Houston, urges patients to be honest about any medications they're taking and whether they're taking it differently than prescribed.
"Some patients may not take their medication twice a day as prescribed, which could lead to the physician prescribing more medication rather than just reiterating the prescribed dose," Dr. Zamora says.
Some drugs also have contraindications, so they can't be taken with certain medical conditions, foods or other medications.
This can affect how your doctor plans to move forward with your health care plan.
In short: Be up-front about your meds, including whether you forget to take them as often as you should.
3. Assuming They Don't Need to Know About the Supplements You’re Taking
Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are available over the counter, but your doctor still wants to know if you're taking them.
"Some supplements can be dangerous if you have certain medications or take other drugs or supplements," Dr. Lansen says.
Using supplements isn't always straightforward — they could interact with certain medications or contribute to your symptoms. For example, vitamin K supplements could interfere with blood thinning medications and high doses of vitamin A supplements could damage your liver, per the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
When your doctor asks if you take any medications, it's a good time to bring up any supplements you use.
Even better: "Check in with your health care provider before taking any new supplements," Dr. Lansen says. "Take photos of the labels so you can discuss the potential risks and benefits at your next visit."
4. Requesting Lab Work You May Not Need
At or before your annual physical, your doctor may order some lab work. It's good to get baseline levels regularly, and certain testing can help screen for medical conditions, but not everything needs to be checked.
Some people expect certain tests that may not be part of an annual checkup, and that's not part of the routine procedure.
For example, many patients expect annual thyroid and anemia checks, Dr. Zamora says. While you may be curious about certain tests, doctors can't order labs if there isn't a medical reason for them.
"If you don't have the symptoms or an existing medical indication, it's inappropriate to order these labs," she explains.
5. Expecting a Prescription for Antibiotics
Antibiotics are drugs that help fight bacterial infections, according to the National Library of Medicine. They can be helpful tools for treating infections like strep throat, but there are some misconceptions about antibiotics that doctors want you to know.
Namely, antibiotics aren't an effective treatment for viral infections, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In other words, they won't help with viruses like colds, flu, COVID-19 or even some sinus or ear infections, the CDC notes.
What's more, asking for antibiotics when you don't need them can do more harm than good for a couple reasons.
"Each course of antibiotics kills both the bad and good bacteria in your system," Dr. Lansen says, which could have a negative effect on your immune system.
Plus, there's concern over antibiotic resistance, or the development of "superbugs" that aren't affected by antibiotics.
Bacteria want to survive, so these germs adapt and develop resistance against the drugs that once killed them, notes the Mayo Clinic. Misusing antibiotics contributes to the development of these "superbugs," so taking antibiotics as intended is one way to help slow the phenomenon.
"When doctors explain that you don't need antibiotics, we're trying to protect you from further harm and avoid contributing to infections around the world that we won't be able to control," Dr. Lansen says.
6. Asking for Off-Label Prescriptions
There's a lot of thought that goes into prescribing a medication. One of the most important considerations is the primary diagnosis, according to an October 2016 research article in Clinical Medicine. However, some patients ask for prescription drugs for diagnoses they don't have.
A common example is the popular drug Ozempic, Dr. Zamora says. It's approved for patients with diabetes, but one of its side effects is weight loss. If the patient doesn't have diabetes, the prescription would be considered off-label.
Doctors can prescribe off-label medications but may have a reason why they deny your request. In the case of Ozempic, prescribing the drug to people who don't have diabetes but want to lose weight could lead to supply issues for people who do have diabetes and need it for its intended use.
7. Holding Questions or Concerns Until Your Next Office Visit
Being seen by your doctor can be a process. There may be long wait times, paperwork and insurance approvals. When your appointment finally arrives, you may have a long list of concerns and questions to go over with your doctor — and doctors want patients to know that's OK.
If you forget something in the moment, you don't have to wait until your next checkup to get your questions answered. Meagan S. Williams, MD, an internal medicine physician in Austin, Texas, says it's OK to contact your doctor between visits or schedule a follow-up visit.
"If you need something, let your medical team know," she says, adding that things like medication refills and routine test results can usually be resolved simply by contacting your doctor's office.
"Your medical team is usually accessible via phone or portal, and sometimes we can quickly address issues," Dr. Williams says.
And don't be afraid to make another appointment if you're worried about something, forgot to mention something at your initial appointment or if symptoms crop up after your checkup.
"If you have a concern about your body, come in and see your medical provider," Dr. Williams says. "Your team is here for you, and the last thing we want is you sitting at home feeling anxious about your health."
- World Health Organization: “Alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer”
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Dietary supplements: What you need to know”
- National Library of Medicine: “Antibiotics”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Be antibiotics aware: Smart use, best care”
- Mayo Clinic: “What are superbugs, and how can I protect myself from infection?”
- Clinical Medicine: “Rational prescribing: the principles of drug selection”
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