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doctor not listening

When the Doctor Doesn’t Know Best

Serena Williams, arguably the GOAT of professional women’s tennis, has spent her life training and being in tune with her body. After she delivered her daughter, aware of her medical history of developing blood clots, she recognized the symptoms and requested a CT scan and medication to dissolve the embolism. As Allyson Chiu recounts in The Washington Post, her nurse disregarded her.

Even her doctor didn’t listen, instead opting for an ultrasound. Only after this procedure did not reveal the cause of Williams’ discomfort did the doctor finally order the CT scan. By then, Williams had been in such distress that her coughing ripped the stitches from her C-section. Just as she suspected, the CT scan “revealed that there were several small blood clots in her lungs, and soon she was receiving blood-thinning medication on a drip.”

The fact that Williams had to fight—and suffer—to be heard and taken seriously by the healthcare providers is a textbook example of medical gaslighting.

A Definition

Christina Caron’s article in the New York Times acknowledges that incidents like Serena Williams’ are prevalent. The problem, identified as medical gaslighting, happens when a patient has their “concerns dismissed by a medical provider.” When a patient’s concerns are dismissed or ignored, the results can range from delayed treatment to misdiagnoses. And almost always, gaslighting causes additional, unnecessary discomfort and suffering. For instance, Serena Williams had to spend the first six weeks of her daughter’s life in bed.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that women “are more likely than men to be misdiagnosed with certain conditions—like heart disease and autoimmune disorders—and they often wait longer for a diagnosis.” And, while the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine gets labeled as “difficult” by her doctor is perhaps meant to be funny, research has identified that doctors are indeed “more likely to use negative descriptors like ‘noncompliant’ or ‘agitated’ in Black patients’ health records than in those of white patients.” Geriatric and LGBTQ patients often experience situations when their healthcare providers belittle, ignore, or simply do not listen to them.

Are You Being Gaslighted?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is possible your healthcare provider is disregarding the plain, simple fact that you know yourself and your body best.

How to Address Gaslighting

Patients who feel like their provider is gaslighting (and in truth, these strategies may be helpful for all patients) can certainly take some measures to advocate for themselves:

In addition to keeping track of your medical records, keep a journal where you record details about how you’re feeling and what symptoms you have. The more specific the information you can share with your doctor, the better chance you have of being taken seriously.

Come to the doctor with a list (written is better) of questions to ask. Caron’s article cites Dr. Nicole Mitchell, the director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, who suggests asking, “’If you were me, what questions would you ask right now?’”

Having someone you trust at your side will reduce your stress and provide an additional set of ears to listen to the doctor. It also makes it harder for a doctor to ignore what you say when you aren’t alone.

Given the time constraints that are imposed on visits to the doctor, lead with what’s most important to you. Again, you may want to come with a list so you can be as efficient as possible.

At the end of your appointment, you want to have a better understanding of what may be wrong, a strategy for how you will confirm or rule out the diagnosis, and some ideas about what the treatment will be.

Hopefully, these strategies will help to develop a better partnership with your healthcare provider. However, if you still feel like your concerns are being dismissed or that you are not getting the type of care you deserve, you may want to consider finding a new provider who will hear what you are saying.

Dr. Mitchell makes it clear that “’Any instances of abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, delaying diagnoses­—those are reportable events that providers need to know about. Doctors need to be held accountable.”

Serious injuries can occur when patients are not listened to. We know. We have helped many individuals whose doctors have made medical errors (including many cases of delayed diagnosis) because they did not take their patient seriously. If you or someone you love was dismissed by your healthcare provider and has a catastrophic injury, contact our experienced Cleveland malpractice lawyers to discuss your options for legal recourse and for obtaining the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-287-0900 or contact us online today.