Majority of Patients Withhold Important Information From Their Health Care Providers Interview with:

Dr. Gurmankin Levy

Dr. Andrea Gurmankin Levy, PhD MBE
Department of Social Sciences
Middlesex Community College, Middletown, Connecticut What is the background for this study?

Response: It is so important for clinicians to get accurate information from their patients so that they can make accurate diagnoses and appropriate recommendations. But we know that people tend to withhold information from others, and that this is especially true when it comes to sensitive information. And in fact, in medicine, there is a long-standing conventional wisdom that clinicians need to adjust patients’ answers (e.g., doubling patients’ report of alcohol consumption) to get a more accurate picture. So we wanted to explore this. How many patients withhold medically-relevant information from their clinicians, and why do they do so?  There have been surprisingly few studies looking at this question in a comprehensive way. What are the main findings? 

Response: We found that a majority of patients have withheld medically relevant information from their clinician at least once, especially about disagreeing with clinician recommendations and not understanding their clinician’s instructions.  The most common reasons for withholding information were not wanting to hear how bad the behavior in question was for them, not wanting to be negatively judged by their clinician, or being embarrassed. Women, younger patients, and those who reported being sicker were more likely to withhold. What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: This research highlights a concerning reality in health care today. If patients are withholding information from clinicians as commonly as this research suggests, then clinicians are routinely not receiving the information that they need to provide quality care to their patients, especially to their sicker patients. The clinician-patient relationship requires honest and open communication between both parties to maximize the therapeutic benefit and avoid potential harms, and our study sheds light on an important barrier to those goals. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We hope that future research will test interventions to increase the trust and communication between patients and their clinicians, and to increase patients’ comfort with disclosing uncomfortable information to their clinicians.


Levy AG, Scherer AM, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Larkin K, Barnes GD, Fagerlin A. Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Patient Nondisclosure of Medically Relevant Information to Clinicians. JAMA Netw Open.2018;1(7):e185293. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.5293

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Last Updated on December 1, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD