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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Niver, RN, MSN

Understanding Medical Gaslighting: Your Rights and What to Do


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As a registered nurse and health advocate, I am deeply committed to empowering patients to advocate for their own health and well-being. One concerning and all too common of an issue that patients may encounter is medical gaslighting.


In this article, we will explore what medical gaslighting is, your rights as a patient, and what to do if you find yourself a victim of this harmful practice.


What is Medical Gaslighting?


Medical gaslighting occurs when healthcare providers dismiss, minimize, or invalidate a patient's symptoms, concerns, or experiences. It occurs across the range of medical professionals from doctors, PA's, nurses, acupuncturists, dentists, orthodontists, and massage therapists.


This can lead patients to doubt their own perceptions and experiences, making it difficult for them to seek appropriate care and support. Medical gaslighting can take many forms, and here are some common examples.


Examples of Medical Gaslighting


These examples illustrate how medical providers may gaslight patients by undermining their perceptions, experiences, and concerns, leading to feelings of confusion, frustration, and mistrust. It's important for patients to recognize the signs of gaslighting and advocate for themselves by seeking second opinions, asking questions, and asserting their rights to respectful and compassionate care.


Invalidating Symptoms


A patient reports persistent pain or discomfort, and the doctor dismisses their symptoms as exaggerated or imaginary, suggesting that there is nothing physically wrong with them despite the patient's distress.


Changing the Narrative


A patient describes their symptoms and medical history, and the doctor re-frames the narrative, suggesting that the patient is overreacting or misinterpreting their symptoms, thereby undermining the patient's perception of their own health.


Denying Past Conversations


A patient discusses previous conversations with their doctor about their symptoms or concerns, and the doctor denies ever having had those conversations or minimizes their significance, making the patient doubt their own memory and judgment.


Downplaying Test Results


A patient receives abnormal test results indicating a potential health issue, and the doctor dismisses the results as insignificant or inconclusive, refusing to investigate further or consider alternative explanations.


Dismissing Emotional Distress


A patient expresses emotional distress or anxiety related to their health concerns, and the doctor brushes off their concerns as irrational or unwarranted, failing to provide appropriate support or referrals for mental health care.


Blaming the Patient


A patient raises concerns about their symptoms or treatment, and the doctor shifts the blame onto the patient, suggesting that their symptoms are a result of noncompliance with treatment or failure to adhere to medical advice, rather than acknowledging the limitations of their own knowledge or approach. This one is one of the most common ones I have seen over the years.


Why Medical Gaslighting Happens


Medical professionals may engage in medical gaslighting for various reasons, though it's important to note that this behavior is never acceptable or ethical. Here are some potential reasons.


Lack of Knowledge or Understanding


Medical professionals may not have sufficient training or awareness about certain conditions, leading them to dismiss or downplay a patient's symptoms or concerns.


Bias or Stereotypes


Unconscious biases or stereotypes held by medical professionals could influence their interactions with patients, causing them to disregard symptoms or minimize their severity based on preconceived notions.


I have seen this one many times, especially when patients try to discuss "alternative" therapies with providers.


Time Constraints and Workload


In a busy healthcare environment, medical professionals may feel pressure to quickly assess and treat patients, leading them to overlook important details or rush through consultations, which can contribute to gaslighting behavior. In many cases this pressure is an actual time constraint imposed by higher ups in the institution.


Fear of Liability


Some healthcare providers may worry about legal repercussions or malpractice claims if they acknowledge a patient's concerns or symptoms, leading them to deny or dismiss the validity of the patient's experiences.


Gatekeeping Access to Resources


In some cases, medical professionals may engage in gaslighting to restrict access to certain treatments, medications, or resources, either due to financial constraints or personal beliefs.


It's crucial for medical professionals to prioritize patient-centered care, empathy, and open communication to ensure that patients feel heard, respected, and supported in their healthcare journey.


Gaslighting behavior not only undermines trust in the patient-provider relationship but can also have serious consequences for the patient's well-being and treatment outcomes.


Your Rights as a Patient


As a patient, you have rights and responsibilities when it comes to your healthcare. It's important to know and assert these rights to ensure that you receive respectful, compassionate, and appropriate care. Some key patient rights related to medical gaslighting include the following.


The Right to Be Heard and Taken Seriously


You have the right to express your concerns, ask questions, and participate in decisions about your care without fear of being dismissed or ignored.


The Right to Informed Consent


You have the right to receive clear and accurate information about your diagnosis, treatment options, risks, and benefits so that you can make informed decisions about your healthcare. If your provider is rushing through, glossing over information, or inadequately answering your questions, you have the right to further question them and to consider another provider instead.


The Right to a Second Opinion


If you are not satisfied with the care you are receiving or feel that your concerns are not being addressed, you have the right to seek opinions from other healthcare providers.


The Right to Respectful Treatment


You have the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion by all healthcare providers, regardless of your age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.


What to Do If You Find Yourself a Victim of Medical Gaslighting


If you believe that you are experiencing medical gaslighting, it's important to take action to protect your health and well-being. Here are some steps you can take.


Trust your instincts


If you feel that something is wrong with your health or the care you are receiving, trust your instincts and advocate for yourself. Remember that you know your body and your symptoms better than anyone else, and you are the ultimate decider for your body.


Educate yourself


Take the time to educate yourself about your condition, symptoms, and treatment options. Ask questions, do research, and seek out reliable sources of information to empower yourself to make informed decisions about your healthcare.


Seek Support


Reach out to friends, family members, or patient advocacy organizations for support and guidance. Having a trusted support system can help empower you to better navigate the challenges of medical gaslighting and advocate for your needs.


Document Your Experiences


Keep detailed records of your symptoms, appointments, tests, treatments, and interactions with healthcare providers. This documentation can provide valuable evidence if you need to file a complaint or seek legal action against a healthcare provider.


Advocate for Yourself


Be assertive in expressing your concerns, asking questions, and advocating for the care you need. Don't be afraid to speak up if you feel that your concerns are not being taken seriously or if you are being gaslit by a healthcare provider.


Remember, you are the consumer, and you have the right to choose another provider.


Consider a Second Opinion


If you are not satisfied with the care you are receiving or feel that your concerns are not being addressed, consider seeking a second opinion from another healthcare provider. A fresh perspective may help you get the answers and support you need.


In Summary


Medical gaslighting is a serious issue that can have harmful consequences for a patient's health and well-being. By understanding what medical gaslighting is, knowing your rights as a patient, and taking proactive steps to advocate for yourself, you can protect yourself from this harmful practice and ensure that you receive respectful, compassionate, and appropriate care.


As a registered nurse and health advocate, I encourage you to trust your instincts, educate yourself, seek support, and advocate for your needs to protect your health and well-being.


Infographic on Medical Gaslighting

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