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Understanding how dangerous “medical gaslighting” can be

Most people don’t go to the doctor unless they have to – or unless a loved one is nagging them to get a check-up or have a problem checked out. When you tell your doctor that something’s bothering you, whether that’s the reason for your visit or you bring it up during a regular exam, you expect to be taken seriously.

It can be a relief to hear your doctor say there’s nothing seriously wrong. However, that assurance doesn’t mean much if they barely listened to what you were saying, asked any questions or even looked at the area in question.

Unfortunately, this can and does happen – and the results can be very serious. It’s come to be known as “medical gaslighting.” One health care executive describes it this way: Medical gaslighting is when concerns about your healthcare are being dismissed, they’re not heard and they are minimized.”

Doctors typically don’t intentionally engage in gaslighting. More often, they’re relying on their own experiences and often their own prejudices to diagnose a patient rather than the information being presented to them.

Some patients are more likely to be victims of this than others. For example, women are too often taken less seriously than men. They may be told their symptoms are “all in their head.” Doctors often tell older patients that their symptoms are a result of aging without any diagnostic steps being taken. Patients who are overweight are often told that a concerning symptom is a result of their size – again without any investigation.

Is your doctor guilty of medical gaslighting?

Whether you want to call it “gaslighting” or not, you should recognize when a doctor isn’t taking your concerns seriously enough to give you a proper diagnosis. Here are a few signs:

  • They interrupt you before you’ve finished describing your concerns to tell you what the problem is (or that there’s no problem).
  • They don’t do any kind of testing or even a thorough exam.
  • They tell you that your symptoms are caused by stress or anxiety.

Doctors often have a very limited amount of time to spend with each patient. However, they have a responsibility to each patient to listen to them and take them seriously.

If you or a loved one was harmed or worse because a doctor didn’t take the time and steps needed for an accurate diagnosis, it may be worthwhile to seek legal guidance to determine whether you have cause for a medical malpractice claim.