On social history questions and why you should tell the truth

Ching Yang and Kevin Parker

In the fifteen years I’ve worked in medicine, I’ve met thousands of patients, and I still feel some annoyance when asked about their social history, which deals with personal lifestyle choices, such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and sex.

I usually leave it to the end, after building trust and intimacy by talking about the problem that brought the patient to the hospital (“current illness history”), other medical problems they have (“previous medical history”), and their medications, allergies, weather, and traffic on their way to Here and the latest performances of local sports teams.

Until then, I begin by saying that I ask everyone questions of social history, to make it clear that I am in no way targeting them or making any assumptions. I am concerned that the patient may think that these questions are not medically relevant because they do not involve biology or anatomy. I also fear that they may feel embarrassed or defend their answers. Therefore, I am aware that there is an impartial and non-judgmental space to invite them to tell me the truth.

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