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Misdiagnosis and Medical Gaslighting of Marginalized Communities

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Doctor talking to patient

Misdiagnosis is an all too prevalent concern in the U.S. today.  In emergency departments, approximately 1 in every 18 patients are misdiagnosed, 1 in 50 suffer an adverse event from misdiagnosis, and 1 in 350 suffer permanent disability or death from misdiagnosis. Sadly, women and people of color are 20% to 30% more likely to be misdiagnosed in this setting.

In recent years, the medical community has begun to address “medical gaslighting,” which describes “cases in which a healthcare practitioner imposes a pattern of questions, testing or diagnosis that runs counter or tangential to the history or symptoms the patient is describing or experiencing.”  This phenomenon disproportionately occurs when the patients are members of the LGTBQ+ community, people of color, women, and/or older adults.  For instance, women are twice as likely as men to have their heart disease symptoms incorrectly categorized as mental illness symptoms.  In addition, a recent study found that 47% of LGTBQ+ people reported experiencing medical gaslighting in the past two years, in comparison with 26% of cis and heterosexual-identifying people.  This problem exists outside the U.S. as well, with a Danish study reporting that women receive cancer diagnoses 2.5 years later than men do.

Unfortunately, misdiagnosis and/or medical gaslighting can have devastating and permanent consequences for patients when a serious condition is not diagnosed timely.  To avoid this devastating outcome, more must be done to train medical providers with diversity in mind.  Indeed, the algorithms medical professionals have been trained to rely upon when observing a patient’s symptoms and rendering a diagnosis are built around heterosexual white men, leaving many other groups marginalized when receiving medical care.

What Can You Do to Avoid Medical Gaslighting?

A CNBC article on this topic offers the following steps a patient may consider taking if they believe they may be in a medical gaslighting situation:

  • Take notes before the medical appointment and list any changes you have noticed in your health.
  • Prepare questions and concerns you hope to discuss during the appointment.
  • Consider bringing an additional person with you to your appointment if permitted, as this will provide you with another listener and emotional support. This person may be able to affirm your concerns to the medical provider.
  • Find a primary care physician you can trust who will become familiar with your medical history and therefore may be more understanding of your concerns.
  • Think about getting a second opinion.

What Can You Do if You Believe You or Your Loved One May Have Suffered a Permanent Injury or Death Due to Misdiagnosis and/or Medical Gaslighting?

If you believe that you or your loved one may have suffered a permanent injury or death due to misdiagnosis and/or medical gaslighting, you should reach out to an attorney right away to discuss this possibility.  Contact the experienced attorneys at Berkowitz and Hanna LLC if you have any questions about your legal rights regarding this concern.  To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call 203-872-0951 or contact us online today.