I’m not great with doctors. I try my best. Between being in an out of medical offices since I was a baby, and being my mother’s caretaker during chemo, I’ve grown to dread visiting my primary or specialist physician. I feel like I have to explain myself to them, specially when it comes to my OB/GYN. It all started when I was fifteen, and has continued until now.
Since my early teens I’ve had incredibly painful periods. I’m not talking about discomfort that’s cured by ibuprofen. I mean trips to the ER, where I’m about to be wheeled into surgery to have my appendix taken out, as I’ve asked for an ultrasound to show that my endometriosis is causing the pain. Yet, each time I’ve described this to a gynecologist, I’ve been met with comments such as: “Childbirth is worse,” “Just take your painkiller beforehand,” “Go on birth control,” or my personal favorite “It’s the same for everyone.” This is why I postpone doctor visits as much as possible. And I’m not alone in this.
There are countless accounts of people’s health being threatened by medical bias. The best way to explain this phenomenon is this definition by BioMed Central: “Cognitive biases and personality traits (aversion to risk or ambiguity) may lead to diagnostic inaccuracies and medical errors resulting in mismanagement or inadequate utilization of resources.”
We’re all human and, as such, prone to have our own bias, preconceptions, and prejudice. The problem lies in what happens when we allow those to influence critical situations, one of them being other people’s health. If your healthcare provider cannot see beyond their own prejudice, you might have no choice but to keep looking. However, this might be complicated depending on both your insurance and financial situation, but you should still try to voice your concern to someone who can point you in the right direction to a different medical professional.
I don’t know what I’d call the bias I’ve encountered in my experience but, from what I’ve researched, the main ones tend to reside around the areas of gender, weight, sexual preference, and even ethnicity. There’s several cases of women who are shamed by their doctors for asking for an STI test or treatment. Others include doctor’s ignoring symptoms and physical checkups, who end up chalking it all up to their patient’s weight. It all goes back to assuming that someone’s situation is their fault. Not unlike women who are slut shamed and told that they “were asking for it,” patients will end up hearing a lecture or just be ignored and dismissed based on the medical professional’s social construct.
There’s no easy solution to this, but I think an important point to make is that perhaps we as patients need to call them out on this. Instead of allowing our providers to shame us, we need to make them aware of what they’re doing. And after we do this, we should make an official complaint to the Health Department. These solutions don’t seem like much, but they’re small steps towards a future where all health professionals will be instructed in how to actually provide care that is not tainted by their own prejudice and biases.
Nobody should be judged, scolded, or shamed when seeking medical advice. If possible, research your doctor a bit more before making your appointment; ask your acquaintances, and be very clear when seeing the physician. Your health is what’s at stake, so before you postpone, find someone who is willing to look at you objectively and actually provide proper healthcare.
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