I think we all agree, the heart of good healthcare is open, clear communication and trust. Yet, it is alarming how often people don’t experience this when they see a health professional. The term “medical gaslighting” has been applied to just this – when people feel dismissed or not heard by health professionals. And it’s not just some on trend catch phrase being thrown around, it is a real issue and it can lead to delayed diagnoses and poorer health outcomes.
First things first, what does medical gaslighting actually look like?
It can be hard to pick but, if you leave a consultation with a health professional feeling like you haven’t been listened too or have been made to feel like a hypochondriac, then this is a red flag for medical gaslighting.
Some other signs are being rushed or cut off when you are trying to talk, not being given the opportunity to ask questions or not being involved in discussion what the treatment options or plan is, simply having it dictated to you. Another red flag is when the health professional tells you what you are experiencing is in your head, without exploring other possibilities. Even if your symptoms are related to stress, possible physical causes always need to be excluded first.
Now let’s look at how you can make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
There are some very simple strategies you can use to make sure you get your point across and feel comfortable that you have been listened to.
Write it down. It can be a bit overwhelming when you are sitting in front of a health professional, they’re often interjecting to ask questions so it can be easy to lose your train of thought. I’m a huge advocate of coming in with a list – write down your symptoms and concerns so you make sure you have something to refer back to, ensuring you convey all of your concerns during the consultation.
Take a support person. Similar to the reasoning for writing it down, having another person there with you can help you feel more confident and comfortable in conveying your concerns. They can also speak up and provide their observations or worries.
Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate. If you feel like you haven’t been heard or you aren’t getting what you need from the consultation, don’t be afraid to speak up!
Get a second opinion. We are all human (yes, doctors too!) and we don’t all connect with everyone. If you feel like you aren’t being heard, despite your best attempts, sometimes that can really breakdown your trust and confidence in that health professional. If that’s the case, then it is probably best to get a second opinion.
The take home message - you know your body better than anyone else so if you feel like your concerns haven’t been taken seriously, keeping pushing until they are. Also, there is nothing to gain by downplaying your concerns, if you are worried - speak up.