What Is Medical Gaslighting? February 22, 2024.

What Is Medical Gaslighting?

If you’ve ever been to a doctor and they didn’t take you seriously, what you experienced has a name – it’s called medical gaslighting. This behavior is common among healthcare professionals, but what it is and the impact it has on patients isn’t often discussed.

Here’s what to know about medical gaslighting, how to spot it, and what to do if you or a family member were hurt by a physician who was dismissive of your concerns.

Medical Gaslighting Defined

The term "medical gaslighting" refers to psychological manipulation that occurs in a healthcare setting in order to make a patient doubt the reality of their symptoms.

Sometimes, practitioners engage in this consciously and knowingly attempt to alter a patient’s perception of reality. More often, providers gaslight their patients subconsciously due to socially-ingrained racial and gender biases.

Risk Factors for Medical Gaslighting

Marginalized groups are at the highest risk of being gaslit by a medical professional when seeking care, especially for pain.

While women of all races experience medical gaslighting, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific American women, and other women of color are the most susceptible to this phenomenon. Being transgender, disabled, elderly, mentally ill, overweight, low-income, or part of the LGBTQIA+ community are also significant risk factors for medical gaslighting.

The figures are alarming:

  1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that physicians underestimate the pain of Black patients 47% of the time.
  2. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reports that on average, Black patients spend 16 more minutes in the ED waiting room than white patients.
  3. A study in the European Heart Journal indicated that following a heart attack, women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed than men.
  4. The Academic Emergency Medicine Journal reports that women are 33% more likely to have longer wait times at the emergency room than men with similar conditions. Women also received less pain relief.
  5. TheJournal of Pain reports that women experiencing physical symptoms are referred for psychiatric evaluation 4 times more frequently than men who present with the same symptoms.

How Medical Gaslighting Leads to Patient Injury

When healthcare providers don't believe their patients, or just don't pay attention to their symptoms, patients are the ones to suffer. Physicians who are dismissive of a patient's complaints may neglect or refuse to conduct the proper diagnostic tests.

This can result in serious conditions like strokes and heart attacks being misdiagnosed or dismissed entirely. Even if a patient doesn’t suffer physical illness or injury as a result of medical gaslighting, it can be psychologically traumatic. These individuals can suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, self-doubt, avoidance behaviors, dissociation, and other debilitating symptoms of psychiatric stress.

10 Signs a Doctor May Be Gaslighting You 

A medical professional may be gaslighting you if they: 

  1. Are dismissive of your concerns
  2. Blame you for your symptoms
  3. Rush through your appointment
  4. Interrupt you or speak over you while you are talking
  5. Suggest that you're imagining or exaggerating your symptoms
  6. Seem callous or unempathetic to your pain
  7. Are uninterested in answering your questions
  8. Make you feel ashamed for coming to the doctor
  9. Give you answers that have nothing to do with your concerns
  10. Assume you’re being dishonest about your medical history

How to Prevent Medical Gaslighting

Taking steps to prevent medical gaslighting can help you get through doctor’s appointments, tests, and other healthcare procedures successfully. Some things you can do include:

  1. Focusing on your primary concerns first
  2. Bringing a support person with you to your appointment
  3. Writing down what the provider says during your appointment
  4. Giving real-life examples of how your symptoms affect you
  5. Asking what other conditions might be causing your symptoms

Above all, remember to stay calm when dealing with medical gaslighting. There is often a power struggle at play for providers who need to feel “above” patients they see as “lesser than” themselves.

It usually has less to do with you and more to do with them feeling as though their authority has been threatened in some way. Remember that you can get a second or even a third opinion if one doctor won’t take you seriously.  

What The Mellino Law Firm Can Do to Help

At The Mellino Law Firm, we have extensive experience representing victims who have been gaslit by medical professionals and suffered injury as a result.

Contact us today to learn more about your right to financial compensation after a negligent physician causes you harm or to schedule your free initial consultation by dialing (440) 333-3800. You can also fill out our short contact form and we’ll get right back to you.