Has a doctor or nurse ever dismissed your health concerns without fully listening or examining your condition? If so, you might be the victim of medical gaslighting. The term “gaslighting” has gained in popularity recently, but the term has been around since at least the 1930s. Gaslighting typically refers to a situation in which a fact or a first-hand experience is dismissed by someone else as a figment of your imagination. This happens in medicine, but once you understand the problem, you can identify it and overcome it.
Identifying Medical Gaslighting
Healthcare providers are human beings with flaws, including bias. Bias often works subconsciously to affect our decisions, including decisions by medical professionals. They might be making prejudgments based on your gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, age, or even your weight. If your provider is making assessments without much attention to your questions or concerns, that’s a red flag. The New York Times offers these warning signs of medical gaslighting:
- Your provider continually interrupts you, doesn’t allow you to elaborate and doesn’t appear to be an engaged listener.
- Your provider minimizes or downplays your symptoms, for example questioning whether you have pain.
- Your provider refuses to discuss your symptoms.
- Your provider will not order key imaging or lab work to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.
- You feel that your provider is being rude, condescending or belittling.
- Your symptoms are blamed on mental illness, but you are not provided with a mental health referral or screened for such illness.
Combatting Medical Gaslighting
The best way to overcome medical gaslighting is to advocate for yourself (or bring a friend or loved one who can help advocate for you). Many of us are guilty of wanting to be “the good patient,” someone who is polite and avoids questions that might seem to be doubting the doctor’s expertise. In truth, a good patient is someone who listens to their body, trusts their instincts, and respectfully asks lots of questions. Here are some tips on how to sidestep situations of medical gaslighting and become your own best healthcare advocate.
- Come prepared. Sometimes, the discussion with your healthcare provider can take a wrong turn quickly and before you know it, it is over before you had a chance to voice your concerns. So, it’s a good idea to write down all your symptoms, including a description of your biggest concern, along with a list of questions. This way, you’ll have something to refer to during your appointment, so you won’t forget to raise any important issues. You can even do a little research on a reputable website, like WebMD.com, and let your doctor know what your online research suggested could be the cause of your symptoms or the tests or other measures that your research recommended. If you encounter some scary sounding conditions that match your symptoms and you write them down, your doctor can address those concerns one by one.
- Take notes. Information comes at you quickly during a healthcare appointment. It can be hard to remember it all. Bring a pen and something to write on. You might have questions or need explanations of things while he or she is talking, so write them down so you won’t forget to ask. You might be given instructions or tips that you want to remember. Don’t be afraid to ask for a pause while you take notes, so you don’t miss anything. It is a good idea to share your notes with your healthcare provider after the appointment so they can verify you have accurate and complete information.
- Ask questions. Good patients don’t just nod; they ask lots of questions. You’re not expected to be an expert on the science of medicine, but it is your responsibility to ask questions. Ask what conditions might be possibly causing your symptoms. Ask how they determine whether you have those conditions. If you are concerned about a particular illness, disease, or ailment, ask if those concerns are valid and ask about the process to determine when tests or exams should be performed. Ask about anything that is weighing on your mind. There are no silly questions when it comes to your health. In fact, certain questions can give doctors that critical clue that points them in the right direction. If you are shy or overly polite, bring a friend or loved one who isn’t afraid to voice your concerns.
- Follow through. Be sure to establish what the next steps are, whether that is medication, a health regimen, tests or scans, or another appointment. As the New York Times article recommends, don’t leave the appointment without knowing “the best guess as to what is happening; plans for diagnosing or ruling out different possibilities; and treatment options, depending on what is found.”
Ideally, anytime you go to your healthcare provider with an ailment or a concern, the goal is to create a patient-centered approach, in which you and your healthcare provider make decisions together. That involves honesty and follow-through from the patient side, along with good listening skills and follow-up on provider side.
When Medical Gaslighting Becomes Medical Malpractice
If your healthcare professional is making assessments without listening, it increases the chance of medical malpractice, where a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis can lead to a serious injury or death. When that happens, you need a law firm with experience in medical malpractice, to investigate the situation fully, gather the experts and evidence necessary to prove malpractice, and recover the amount necessary to provide the best path forward for the victims and their families. If you suspect medical malpractice, trust those instincts and get answers from Brown & Barron with a free consultation at (410) 698-1717 or online by clicking here.