Have you ever felt like a doctor just isn’t listening to what you’re saying? Unfortunately, many of us have experienced medical concerns being dismissed by a doctor. That’s not to say that doctors aren’t doing their jobs. Some concerns may not be anything to worry about. Or the doctor believes the current course of treatment is the best option. However, in other cases, doctors may misdiagnose a condition or ignore you altogether, minimizing your voice. This is a sign of medical gaslighting, which can lead to improper treatment.
Here are some signs of medical gaslighting and what you can do if you feel like your concerns or those of a loved one aren’t being heard.
What Is Medical Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play, which was later turned into a movie, about a husband who manipulates his wife into thinking that she is suffering from a mental breakdown. The term has been widely used to describe manipulating relationships that cause someone to doubt themselves. However, it has more recently been used to describe medical situations in which patients don’t feel heard.
“Medical gaslighting” refers to a healthcare professional blaming a patient’s health concerns or symptoms on psychological factors. Doctors might dismiss you altogether, saying that you're not sick or your symptoms aren’t that severe. Maybe you hear something like, “That’s normal for someone your age."
But not all medical gaslighting is on purpose. Doctors may be having a busy day and need to get on to the next patient, or they have an underlying unconscious bias. Medical gaslighting has been shown to happen more frequently to women, people of color, and individuals with chronic conditions — like the elderly. But medical concerns should always be taken seriously because they could have implications for your long-term health.
Signs of Medical Gaslighting
Here are some of the signs that you may be experiencing medical gaslighting:
- Your symptoms or concerns about your health are dismissed or ignored without discussion.
- You feel like your healthcare provider is blaming you.
- You feel like you have to argue to be heard or taken seriously about your health.
- Your healthcare provider continually interrupts you and doesn’t seem to be listening to what you have to day.
- Your healthcare provider minimizes your symptoms.
- You start questioning your symptoms altogether or re-evaluate their severity.
- Your healthcare provider will not order lab work or imaging to pursue a diagnosis.
- Your healthcare provider blames a mental illness that you have not been diagnosed with or screened for.
What To Do about Medical Gaslighting
If you suspect medical gaslighting toward your own concerns or the concerns of an aging loved one, here’s what you can do to address it and better advocate for your needs.
1. Keep a symptom journal
If you experience chronic symptoms, try keeping a journal with detailed notes. What were your symptoms? How long did they last? Were they triggered by anything you did? \
2. Write down notes
In addition to a symptom journal, keep notes about your doctor’s appointments so you can refer back and follow up. You can also keep a record of current medications, family medical history, and recent lab results.
3. Prepare questions
It's always a good idea to go to your doctor’s appointment prepared. Write these down and bring them to the appointment. If your doctor has an online portal, you can even send in the questions before the appointment to give the doctor time to review them. If you are still confused about something, keep asking questions.
4. Bring someone with you
It can be helpful to have an advocate with you in your appointment. This person can help validate how you feel and also hear what the doctor is saying to make sure you understand everything correctly. This person can help you remain calm and avoid stress or anxiety that may arise as a result of feeling like you haven’t been heard. Having someone with you can be extremely helpful for elderly patients, who may be highly targeted for gaslighting and whose health could be at the highest risk.
5. Keep it concise
As people, we tend to want to overshare at the doctor’s office. And for good reason! The more a doctor knows about us, the better they can help us, right? However, to help your appointment be more productive and to help the doctor understand what you’re experiencing, try to keep it concise. Write down the top reasons for the appointment and highlight your most pressing issues. This can help keep communication with your doctor clear and to the point.
6. Write down next steps
Before you leave your appointment, you and your doctor should have some treatment plan outlined. Maybe you need further testing or you are going to try a new medication. Make sure you understand what the next steps are and why.
7. Get a second opinion
If you feel ignored by your doctor, then find a different one. While this isn’t always a possibility due to insurance, location, timing and other factors, finding a different doctor — or at least getting a second opinion — could help you feel heard.
8. File a complaint
If you are truly dissatisfied with the care you are receiving, you can report the doctor to their superiors. If the doctor runs their own practice, then you can report your experience to the Federation of State Medical Boards. This board helps keep doctors accountable.
If you or an aging loved one needs help navigating the medical world, our team is here to help. We can take notes, attend doctor’s appointments, and more. Reach out to your local Caring team for information.