Have you ever sought treatment in a healthcare facility and had medical personnel question what you are experiencing? Did they tell you your pain or discomfort was a figment of your imagination? Then you have probably experienced medical gaslighting.
This may happen intentionally or unintentionally— regardless, it bears serious health repercussions. Muthoki Kithanze explores how you can tell that your provider is dismissing your concerns, feelings or complaints
1. You are continuously interrupted
Some healthcare providers are quick to interject when you are making a point, denying you the opportunity to express your symptoms adequately. It can be frustrating and condescending and cause you to refrain from sufficiently talking about your medical condition. Even though medical doctors are experts in the medical field, they should always allow you time to talk about what ails you, after all, it is your body.
2. Your health provider dismisses your symptoms
Are you sure you are feeling pain there? It is probably normal for your age, it’s a small cough it will go away. You may have heard these statements before, and they might have given you a measure of reassurance. But the dismissal of your symptoms may bear disastrous health outcomes. Your illness or symptoms may continue to progress because the doctor failed to regard them seriously. A 2020 study found that one in seven clinical encounters involve a diagnostic error where 75 per cent were a cognitive factor in decision making such as overconfidence in the wrong diagnosis.
3. The doctor will fail to ask for lab tests or imaging
If a medical doctor fails to ask you for blood work and imaging, especially if you keep presenting with a repeated health issue, that should concern you. Laboratory tests and imaging work are important components of treatment as they provide the medical doctor with evidence of what ails you and inform diagnosis and treatment. If you do not get tests to rule out or confirm an illness, your condition may never be resolved.
4. Refusal to consider your medical history
Have you ever met a nurse or a doctor who is very quick to administer medicines or take blood work even before you explain your medical history? Doctors are expected to note and consider the medical background to inform the course of diagnosis and treatment. Failure to do this may cause allergies or other serious health repercussions. When you notice a doctor failing to take a keen interest in your past or lingering health complications, then you may be getting medically gaslighted.
5. They will say it’s all in your head
A lot of patients who have received multiple misdiagnoses will tell you that this is the most common line they hear from doctors. Just because your symptoms are not a classic representation of a known disease does not mean they are not real. A lack of evidence should not be assumed to be the absence of illness a medical doctor is quoted saying.
6. They exclude you from treatment options
While it is true the doctor is the expert and he is better suited to know what troubles your body, you should be made to understand the treatments and medical procedures that follow a diagnosis. Medical experts should talk to you about side effects, treatment options, and disease prognosis. Excluding patients from treatment may cause low adherence to medicine and breed skepticism.
7. They let underlying bias affect the condition
Our medical doctors are every bit as human as the next person. They have biases and hold different beliefs. Some tend to misdiagnose based on gender, social status, or occupation. A 2017 medical review paper identified 35 studies that showed evidence of bias in healthcare providers and found that the bias resulted in poor quality care. Healthcare providers are expected to treat everyone with dignity and fairly.
8. They rush you
When you sit down to talk to a doctor, you want them to listen to you and provide clear feedback. Especially, if it took strenuous logistical planning to get to the healthcare facility, such as traveling from afar. But you will find that a doctor will rush you through explaining your health concerns and is least bothered to answer questions after a diagnosis. While doctors have demanding schedules and in the case of our country, serving many patients, they must take time to adequately attend to patients.
9. They make you feel inferior
Doctors are smart. No one is disputing that. But sometimes they may come across as condescending in their discharge of services. A doctor who belittles you will use words such as ‘I went to school, I know what I am saying’ or unconcernedly goes about using heavy medical jargon. This is a great disservice to you and may deter you from voicing your health concerns.
10. Failing to give you a referral
When you ask for a referral to access better care or to ascertain a diagnosis and they refuse to give it or start to charge that you doubt their expertise, you may be a victim of medical gaslighting. Most medical personnel will be happy to give a referral to put your mind at ease and also to corroborate their findings.