As the holidays approach and I start to think about how my practice has grown over the past year, I am reminded of a NY Times article I read about “Medical Gaslighting.”
This is when a doctor essentially dismisses a person’s symptoms, either misdiagnosing them with another condition or implying that the symptoms are a result of a mental health problem, rather than a physical disease process.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn this happens more often with women, and the most often with women of color. This is not a rare event: “Research suggests that diagnostic errors occur in up to one out of every seven encounters between a doctor and patient, and that most of these mistakes are driven by the physician’s lack of knowledge.”
One out of seven!
The problem, according to the NY Times reporting, is multifaceted. There is implicit bias to be sure, but there has also been a long-standing under-representation of women in research studies (largely in an effort to avoid testing new treatments on pregnant women). So, for example, we just don’t know as much about how heart disease manifests in women as opposed to men. As a result, doctors miss symptoms of heart disease in women more often than in men.
Another major factor in this “medical gaslighting” is simply time. Doctors don’t have enough of it. In one study mentioned in the article, doctors under more stress were less likely to prescribe medication to black patients with chronic back pain. Researchers who study medical decision-making usually state the obvious: doctors should be given more time with their patients, and see fewer patients overall.
This of course is a big part of why I started Dignity Integrative. It’s also not surprising that the majority of my patients are women. They tell me stories of being dismissed by their doctors for sometimes elusive symptoms.
My advice is to keep looking to find a doctor who will take the time to listen and be a medical detective. We can’t fix our healthcare system overnight, but Dignity Integrative does seek to circumvent the key problem of not enough time by working directly with patients. My model is designed to provide ample time over the course of a year to investigate the root causes of chronic health conditions and set patients on the path to better health and wellness.