5 Things You Don't Have To Tell Your Doctor
A lot of the information we're given about doctors' appointments and disclosure involves what we should discuss but don't: sexual conditions, past partners, dabbling in drugs and herbal remedies, life stresses, diet, and other areas are all up for discussion at a doctor check-up, as they're all relevant to treatment and general health assessment. Too often, because of delicacy, embarrassment, misunderstanding, or the perception that certain things are "irrelevant," GPs can miss out on a lot of information that can give them a wider perspective on your body. But the focus is rarely on what we're not actually obligated to talk about with our doctors. Discussions in GP offices can get uncomfortable, and that's just an inevitable part of the experience on many occasions, but there are certain areas in which it's valid to draw the line and feel free of any obligation to share.
We're not really talking about cherry-picking here; we're discussing what's relevant, what's best for you and the confidentiality of others, and what's going to give your doctor the greatest capability when it comes to assessing your conditions. There are situations in which less is more, and where nothing at all is completely acceptable. (Note: sexual health isn't one of them. You really do need to tell your doctor how many partners you've had, what protection you've used, and what STDs you've been tested for. They don't care; they just need to know what might have affected your sexual health. If they make you feel in any way judged for divulging that information, find a different doctor.) You can be reassured that most GPs have seen and heard it all, and that you don't need to restrict information to protect their delicate feelings or avoid their "judgement".
But here are five things you're not actually obligated to reveal to your doctor, from the health details of others to the intricacies of any psychological conditions.
1. Your Financial Details Or Social Security Number
This isn't implying that your doctor is going to tell your details to crooks or have some fun online shopping at your expense; it's a data protection thing. Essentially, any identification or financial data that isn't strictly necessary should not go on record at your doctor's office, including your social and your credit or debit card number. Doctors and hospitals are no strangers to data hacking: a 2015 security compromise across 230 hospitals in the U.S. saw millions of patients have their data potentially compromised, from intimate medical details to stuff like financial information.
I know it sounds paranoid, but it's important to have a conversation with your doctor or their reception about their data protection protocols, and ask exactly what they do with your information and what's strictly necessary. ABC News, in a study of the problem, explains that socials are no longer essential identifying details, and that in many cases it's not a problem to leave that section of any form blank.
2. Excessive Details Of Specialist Appointments
General practitioners are general for a reason. They have a wide and advanced knowledge of many conditions (the notion that GPs are somehow "amateurs" is, as the Huffington Post explains, rather insulting), but in cases where you've been referred to another specialist, or know that you're dealing with something slightly outside their wheelhouse from previous experience, it's not really necessary to flood them with all the details, particularly on an unrelated visit.
They will require a certain amount of information, whether they were behind the referral to another specialist or not: what medications you're now on, for instance, and what the treatment plan is for the future. But beyond that, while they might well be interested, you're not obligated to sit down in front of them and recite everything that happened with your specialist. It's also not good practice to reiterate any information they've been sent in official medical documentation from another professional, unless they ask.
3. The Intimate Health Conditions Of Others
In general, if you're not comfortable confiding in your doctor because they've demonstrated behavior you're not cool with, it's time to change doctors. Those behaviors can include not keeping up to date with the latest health treatments and not listening, as Forbes explains. But one specific behavior concerning disclosure can raise its own issues: are you in fact obligated to tell your doctor the specific health issues facing those in your immediate vicinity? Unless they directly affect you, by contagion, causing stress, genetic precedent, or otherwise, no, you aren't.
There are many different things that can affect health and need to be told to a doctor, from a friend's cold to a family history of cancers; but if they don't actually touch on your own situation, you don't need to reveal them, and it respects their confidentiality to avoid it. If they want to discuss it, they can see the GP themselves. Your doctor should know well enough that the health concerns of other adults are their own business, and shouldn't encourage you to gossip.
4. The Fact That You're Seeking A Second Opinion
This is an interesting one. If your doctor suggests a certain cure and you, not particularly happy with what you've heard, visit another GP or a specialist who takes a different route, you only need to disclose this if you take the second doctor's advice. And that goes for any other person or entity you consult, even if it's just the friend who recommend herbs you start taking. The treatment itself is a crucial disclosure: you should never hide what you're actually doing to your body from your GP, even if it's not what they recommended. But the act of looking for a second (or third) opinion itself doesn't require you to tell. You're not bound to your GP by law, and it doesn't count as "cheating on them" to go somewhere else.
5. The Details Of A Psychological Condition
It's crucial for you to tell your GP about any psychological conditions you've had diagnosed or suspect may be present. For one, it can be a major influence on your health, and for another they can be a source for support, referrals, community services that might help, and other helpful stuff. But, particularly in the case of conditions that are related to personal trauma (PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression can all stem from it), it's not necessary to disclose parts of your personal psychological history outside of a purely therapeutic environment.
Your treatment, general state of mind, and how it affects your physical health are all on the table; but if you're in therapy, do remember that therapeutic space is dedicated to unwrapping painful mental problems, and the GP's office isn't. You may make yourself feel vulnerable or distressed, and the GP will likely not have the specific training to help you. If you're having trouble with this, work with your therapist on what you feel is necessary to disclose for good medical treatment, and what you can keep for therapy.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't tell your GP details, only that you don't need to. If they're a person you can trust, and if you're not yet in treatment or simply trying to figure a diagnosis out, telling them may be helpful. But don't feel obligated.
Images: Pixabay; Giphy