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Physicians Practice: Is Your Patient Telling the Truth?

Physicians Practice: Is Your Patient Telling the Truth?
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Martin Merritt, JD

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Martin Merritt, JD (click to view)

Martin Merritt, JD

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10 most common indicators of deception.
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The author of this article is Martin Merritt, JD, a Dallas-based health lawyer with the firm of Friedman & Feiger, and executive director of the Texas Health Lawyers Association.

Patients can mislead physicians for many reasons, including addiction, concealment of abusive relationships that cause injuries, or malingering. Retired FBI agent Robert Bettes recently shared several tips that can help clinicians determine if patients are lying or being dishonest.

According to Bettes, both verbal and non-verbal deceptive behaviors are exhibited when people are being deceptive. About 27 deceptive behaviors are considered reliable indicators of deception, the most common of which include:

  • Failing to answer the question.
  • Using attack behaviors that discredit interviews or abandon the line of questioning.
  • Using qualifiers to carve out information that may be detrimental.
  • Hiding the mouth and/or eyes (to shield the truth).
  • Clearing the throat before answering questions.
  • Moving major body parts when responding to questions.
  • Using grooming gestures to tidy up one’s self, fidgeting, or making frequent adjustments.
  • Exhibiting verbal disconnect with behavior.
  • Frequently repeating questions in an attempt to buy time before answering questions.
  • Providing too much information or overly specific responses.

According to Bettes, these indicators are a starting point, but the key is to look for deceptive behaviors to occur in clusters. This occurs when two or more deceptive behaviors are exhibited in response to questions. Follow-up questions are critical if patients display a cluster of behaviors. Active listening is required to identify true motives.

The above article is an abridged version of a longer feature published by Physicians Practice. To access the full-length article, click here.

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