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Navigating the Shadows: Tackling Gaslighting in Medicine

Step into the intriguing world of healthcare, where the battle against illness unfolds daily. Yet, in the background, a quiet adversary—gaslighting—often goes unnoticed.


March 3, 2023, marked a turning point in the way we view medical encounters. In an eye-opening article by Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., the concept of medical gaslighting was brought to the forefront. In this exploration, we aim to understand the challenges faced by patients with unexplained symptoms and the need for effective communication between patients and healthcare providers.



Unveiling the Concept of Medical Gaslighting:


Medical gaslighting is a term used to describe situations where patients feel their concerns or physical complaints are dismissed by healthcare providers. Instances include not being taken seriously, having symptoms attributed to vague causes like "stress," or being sent home without a clear diagnosis or treatment plan. Such experiences not only leave patients feeling dismissed but may also have significant health implications.



Addressing the Common Challenge of Unexplained Symptoms:


As a practitioner in the field, encountering patients with symptoms lacking a clear biological cause is a common occurrence. These symptoms, accounting for around 40 percent of primary care visits, often pose a challenge in diagnosis. Interestingly, there appears to be a gender prevalence in both patients with medically unexplained symptoms and those who feel they have experienced medical gaslighting.



Real Stories Reflecting the Impact:


Illustrating the potential consequences of medical gaslighting, we delve into real-life examples, such as a case where symptoms of a serious condition were initially attributed to aging. Another instance involves a well-known author, Amy Tan, whose battle with Lyme disease was met with dismissal, resulting in delayed diagnosis and lasting consequences.



Long Covid and Patient Experiences:


In the context of Long Covid, patients with persistent symptoms have reported feeling dismissed by healthcare providers. A study examining the experiences of over 300 Long Covid patients highlights the challenges they face, with 34 percent feeling their symptoms were treated as unreliable reports.



Understanding Unintentional Communication Barriers:


While physicians typically do not intentionally dismiss patient concerns, the time constraints of medical visits, unconscious biases, and limited research data can contribute to unintentional dismissals. Primary care physicians, in particular, face challenges in thoroughly addressing patient concerns within the brief duration of appointments.



Empowering Patients in Healthcare Communication:


For patients navigating potential medical gaslighting, proactive communication strategies can play a crucial role. Preparing questions, maintaining detailed symptom notes, and involving a trusted companion during appointments are effective ways to ensure clarity and understanding. Seeking additional opinions is a valid approach if patients feel unheard or disrespected.


Final Word:


Effective communication between patients and healthcare providers is pivotal in fostering a collaborative and respectful healthcare environment. Patients are encouraged to actively participate in their healthcare journey, advocating for their concerns and contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of their health.

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