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Ask the Doc: What’s Up with all the Personal Questions my Doctors Ask?

Image of Ask the Doc: What’s Up with all the Personal Questions my Doctors Ask?. U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Williams Harris, practical nursing specialist, asks medical questions to a patient in Sikeston, Missouri on June 14, 2023. Innovative Readiness Training Operation Healthy Delta provided no-cost health care services to the Sikeston area. Health care professionals need to ask personal questions about your physical and mental health so they can treat you with the highest quality of care. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. I.M. Reserved

Dear Doc,

When I go to the doctor, why do they ask so many questions about my behaviors and my free time? It’s no one’s business but my own. Why does the military want to know about my personal habits? I like to keep my personal life private.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. I.M. Reserved

Dear Staff Sergeant,

That’s an important question, especially since you like to keep things close to the vest. I asked U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Peter Armanas to explain. He is the chair of the Defense Health Agency Behavioral Health Clinical Community. Here’s what he had to say.

_______________________

There’s an old adage—what we do in secret kills us—that applies in medicine. So, why do we ask these questions? To treat you, we need to know all about you, including your physical and mental health.

The questions may be uncomfortable and personal because we want to help you and give you a safe environment. Physicians provide interventions that provoke discomfort but in a way that can help you because we’re looking out for your long-term mental health and physical health.

We can’t help you if you don’t volunteer information. Nobody is going to force you to answer these questions, but we can’t also fully help you if you if we don’t ask them.

If you’re cautious about answering these types of questions from a nurse, you can always wait to talk to the provider.

The private information you provide to your health care team as an active duty service member is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. A major goal of HIPAA is to ensure individuals' health information is properly safeguarded while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide high-quality health care. The act balances the need to know that permits important uses of personal health information with protecting the privacy of people seeking care.

The only time we will share information with your command that you don’t want us to share is if we think you are a risk of harm to yourself, others, or the mission. We share information in collaboration with you, the patient, and work together with you on the course of action the health care team takes.

Ultimately, if you don’t share information with your health care provider, you may adversely affect your mental health and physical health, and this will adversely affect those who count on you to be healthy and fit and who want you to get help.

That’s because health is about how you can serve other people, and the resources available to you.

The bottom line is it’s a two-way street of trust. We will always treat you with dignity and respect, listen without judgment, and help you with what you need help with.

______________

Staff Sergeant,

I hope he helped explain the need for these personal questions at your health care visits. It’s been said that patients don’t tell the whole truth half of the time, so these questions are a way to dive deeper into what’s really going on with your physical and mental health so you can be your best.

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