Your Doctor Hears You, But is He Listening?

By: Guest Author

Published: April 9, 2019

Written by Jori Hamilton – Guest Contributor

Women’s health, especially for women of color and those over the age of, is infamously taken less seriously by medical professionals. It’s a problem that exists not just in the U.S. but around the globe. If you fall into either of these demographics, this probably isn’t shocking news to you. However, if this is surprising information to you, hold on, because it gets a lot worse.
Doctors often don’t listen closely enough to their female patients – which is not only frustrating but can lead to some serious complications (or worse). For example, the U.S. has the worst maternal death rate in the developed world. Not only is that heartbreaking, it’s unnecessary and avoidable in many cases, meaning we need something to change.
For many female patients, both young and mature, paying the doctor a visit feels like going through a revolving door: you’re in long enough for them to slap a common diagnosis on your current problem and you’re out. While this obviously isn’t the case for every doctor, it’s time that we start acknowledging and addressing that there is a problem with bias within our healthcare system. Women deserve better.

The Deadly Truth

As a female patient, especially if you’re older and know you’re body inside and out, it’s frustrating to have your pain explained away by a doctor as something “trivial.” You might be told to stop worrying so much, that perhaps it’s all in your head, or that your pain is simply a side effect of anxiety. Even when you’ve done your due diligence and picked out the right doctor, you can still be brushed off. It feels like a door slamming in your face – conversation over.
However, this lack of listening is where things can really turn harmful, or even deadly in some cases. In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Fiona Gupta, a neurologist and director of wellness and health in the department of neurosurgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai explains, “I can’t tell you how many women I’ve seen who have gone to see numerous doctors, only to be told their issues were stress-related or all in their heads,” she also says that, “Many of these patients were later diagnosed with serious neurological problems, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. They knew something was wrong, but had been discounted and instructed not to trust their own intuition.” It’s hard enough to not question yourself and your symptoms, but to have your trusted medical professional dismiss your claims is not only deflating but can actually result in more pain in the long run. Women are often literally dying to be taken seriously.
With all that in mind, it’s important for both patients and medical professionals to learn to employ better communication skills, in order to achieve the right results and outcome. According to Benchmark Senior Living, in order for professionals to better manage difficult conversations about care, it’s essential for patients to look for the following qualities in a provider:
  • Patience: A doctor shouldn’t be rushing you. Each patient deserves respect and compassion during their visit, and you are no exception. If you’re feeling rushed while trying to explain your concerns to your doctor, express that you would really appreciate a few moments to lay everything on the table – without interruption.
  • Willingness to listen in order to learn: Your doctor should be actively listening to what you’re saying as well as paying attention to your body language. If they are constantly interrupting, they are bound to miss verbal cues that you may not even know you’re giving. Doctors who snatch the conversation from you are more likely to downplay what you’re really concerned about.
  • Letting the patient take the lead: At the end of the day, it’s important for medical professionals to focus on what’s best for their patients. Let your doctor guide the conversation initially, but don’t let them derail you as you speak with them. Sometimes, it’s hard to put into words exactly what’s bothering you, and that’s where doctors can really help. Given their more acute medical knowledge, they are more likely to pinpoint what’s troubling you – if they can manage to listen well enough.

Diversity: The Offense Women Need

Another discussion worth opening up, outside of the examination room, is the potential solution to emphasize diversity in healthcare. More female doctors and other medical professionals working in roles throughout the entire healthcare system, as well as more diversity for all cultures and backgrounds, could greatly improve treatment for female patients and women of color.
Healthcare experts at Regis College explain that, “When teams of health care professionals reflect the diversity of their patients, it is easier for providers to develop cultural competency, thus allowing patients and providers to communicate more openly. Also, patients tend to feel safer in facilities where they see diverse teams working together effectively.” While doctors should of course treat each patient equally, regardless of age, color, or background, sometimes the bias in healthcare comes simply from a lack of empathy or experience. Do no harm is (hopefully) the main goal of any medical professional, but that doesn’t necessarily make up for the lack of first-hand experiences. Diversifying the healthcare field could potentially bridge many of these costly, painful gaps. It could also hold doctors to a higher standard, pushing more professionals to take their female patients seriously – or risk losing a lot of business.
Getting older means you’ve spent enough time with your body to know when something is up. It also means you’re probably sick and tired of that dismissive attitude you face when paying the doctor a visit. Luckily, you’re not alone in your struggles, as most Red Hot Mamas know by now. While it may not happen overnight, demanding more from our healthcare system can help ensure more women are taken seriously.
Bio: Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on twitter @HamiltonJori


The views expressed herein this article, written by a guest contributor, do not necessarily represent those of the Red Hot Mamas organization. The content is for informational purposes and should not substitute the advice of your doctor.