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Study reveals up to 80% of patients withhold the truth from their doctors.

Two American national surveys with more than 4,500 participants have found that 60-80% of patients reported withholding medically relevant information from their doctor. The most common reason for this was that they did not want to be judged or hear how harmful their behaviour is.

By failing to be completely honest with their clinicians, patients are hampering their doctor’s ability to prescribe accurate medical advice.

The study also showed that patients were most likely to withhold the truth from their doctor when they disagreed with or misunderstood the instructions they were given. This, of course, has many parallels with clients and their personal trainers. Holly Lynch, FitPro national trainer, definitely sees the link.

“Clients won’t want to tell you about their slip-ups or their naughty treats,” said Holly. “I think this boils down to people thinking that they will be judged. We all know when we do something that will negatively affect our health – but we do it anyway. We think that if we tell health professionals, then we will get nagged or told off, and we don’t want that.”

Steve Barrett, director of global group education and training at Johnson Health Tech. also thinks that clients not realising they’re lying can play into the problem.

“I had a woman who was always saying how she was eating low-fat this, low-fat that, but then I’d go into her fridge and I would show her the sugar content and all the disguised sugar – which isn’t called sugar, but it’s still sugar! They’re lying to you but they don’t even realise it, so there’s no malice involved.”

How can you do your job?

So, how can PTs ensure they’re getting the best results out of someone if they feel they aren’t being honest? For Steve, it’s about understanding your clients so you can communicate on their level.

“Every client is different, so you need to make sure you understand what makes them tick and how best to communicate with them. If you’ve got a captain of industry who’s employing 20,000 people, with that type of person I would suggest that exercise is the equivalent of an investment they would make, and that they wouldn’t go into an investment and not manage it properly,” he says.

“I’d get into their heads to work out what it was that was going to trigger a behaviour change – and once you’ve worked that out, that’s how you communicate with that one individual.”

Steve feels that the same applies with any client, and for someone who has a lot of time on their hands, the solution comes from bringing some structure into their life.

“That’s the key thing. Stop them feeling the need to lie, and that all comes down to trusting the personal trainer and realising that a good PT is going to be looking at every aspect of a person’s life, not just the 45 minutes to an hour that they’re spending with them on any given session,” he concludes.

Holly agrees that it’s about being transparent, explaining that her job isn’t to change their lives completely, but to facilitate a healthier one.

So while it’s unfortunate that some clients may lie, the solution comes from communicating the need for the process on a level they respond to, and showing them that they won’t be judged for telling the truth.

How do you deal with clients withholding the truth from you? Share your tips with us on our Twitter or Facebook

To read about extending rapport with clients, click here.