Dismissed by the Doctor
Despite modern medical knowledge, diagnosis remains an imprecise science. In as many as one-fifth of cases, doctors are not able to explain their patients' symptoms. Unfortunately, this reality can give rise to challenges in the doctor-patient relationship. When their ailments aren't readily recognizable, some patients feel their doctors simply dismiss their discomfort as invented or exaggerated, although doctors would never be trained to do this.
Recent research suggests this perception is particularly stronger for women than for men, who often feel their concerns are dismissed by men in the medical profession. This effect seems more intense around matters of sexual and reproductive health; conditions such as endometriosis take nearly a decade to diagnose, on average, because doctors downplay symptoms as typical period pain. Such findings raise an important question: If this situation was overcome in the medical community, how much could patient care be improved?
In this project, we collected responses from over 1,000 Europeans and Americans on their experiences with doctors when discussing their general and sexual health. Our study explored patient perceptions of doctor disinterest towards their medical concerns and what about their consultations prompted them to feel their doctors were disregarding their issues. Our results allow us to contrast the treatment of men and women and explore which doctor habits patients feel most dismissed by. To see how often patients feel dismissed or disregarded, keep reading.
Overlooking Patient Anxieties and Concerns
According to our findings, nearly half of respondents reported being dismissed by a doctor when seeking general health services. This result may speak more to the trials of the medical profession than patients' credibility. According to recent studies exploring doctors' well-being, many professionals deal with the stress and anxiety of their jobs by suppressing their emotions. This approach may be counterproductive, however, as some research indicates that doctors who are able to practice greater levels of empathy are more successful in avoiding burnout.
Roughly 14 percent of our respondents had ever felt dismissed by a doctor when discussing sexual health. This finding might relate to the fact that some sexual health concerns, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, are quite common and can be diagnosed with a simple test. Accordingly, doctors may recognize and respond to the familiar symptoms of these STIs swiftly, leaving less chance that patients will feel ignored or mistrusted.
Effect of Doctor's Sex on Patient Perceptions
Thus far, our results indicate that a patient's sex may influence the way they feel their general health concerns are addressed. But could the health care provider's sex shape how patient interactions are perceived as well?
Women were more likely to perceive male doctors as dismissive – which is not to say male or female practitioners are more or less attentive. 62% of women reported that they'd felt dismissed by a male doctor, but a notable 47% expressed that interactions with female doctors also left them feeling dismissed as well.
Men also reported feeling more dismissed by male doctors. 42% of men expressed that their general health concerns had been disregarded by a male doctor within the last year, while a lesser 37% expressed feeling dismissed by a female doctor in the same time frame.
These findings seem to support the notion that female doctors tend to practice empathy more successfully, a conclusion bolstered by several recent studies.
How Some Doctors Show Disregard for General Health Concerns
Which aspects of their general health consultations made respondents perceive they were being discourteously or insufficiently treated? Women most reported feeling dismissed when their doctors offered resolutions they found insufficient, while men were most likely to feel dismissed when they perceived their doctors were not listening to them. Consistent with current research, women were more likely than their male counterparts to perceive that their doctors did not take their complaints of pain seriously. According to some medical researchers, certain doctors may consistently downplay women's pain, and they suggest some doctors even resist prescribing them necessary medication.
Roughly equal percentages of men and women felt that doctors didn't take the time to fully answer their questions. Slightly more women than men expressed dissatisfaction with doctors who neglected to offer non-pharmaceutical treatment options for their general health concerns.
Three-quarters of respondents reported that they independently address their general health concerns after feeling dismissed by their doctors. When patients feel ignored or patronized by their doctors, they may attempt self-treatment with ineffective methods that are useless at best and harmful at worst.
Regardless of patient demographics, many patients do feel empowered to find new doctors if they are dissatisfied with their current one. Our results suggest that 6 in 10 individuals have sought a new doctor after raising a general health concern and feeling dismissed. This result resonates with past studies that find positive patient reviews are a primary driver of patient loyalty to their doctors.
Addressing Intimate Issues
When it comes to matters of sexual health, doctors of either sex were more likely to have female patients who felt their issues had been ignored. As one might predict, women felt that female doctors were more attentive when the health concerns were sexual in nature. Women were approximately twice as likely as men to have felt ignored by a physician when discussing their sexual health. This imbalance of attention may perpetuate certain cultural norms, which experts say silence the sexual needs of women. Researchers note that many women still feel shame about pain or discomfort during sex, and feeling these symptoms dismissed could exacerbate this dynamic.
Women felt dismissed slightly more often by male doctors, but the difference was slim – 20 percent during interactions with male doctors versus 17 percent when it came to doctors who were female. For men seeking treatment for sexual health, the effect of the doctor's sex was negligible. Roughly 90 percent of male respondents reported that they had never felt dismissed by a doctor when addressing sexual needs.
How Doctors Convey a Disregard for Sexual Health Concerns
We've noted the most common ways patients feel their doctors dismiss their general health concerns, but do sexual health matters prompt a different response? Roughly 18 percent of men who reported feeling dismissed over matters of sexual health said it was a lack of doctor questioning that prompted such feelings. Women expressed less concern over this issue; only four female respondents were bothered by doctors' lack of further questions. Male respondents were more willing to entirely trust conventional medicine and doctor opinions in regards to their sexual health. While nearly 8 percent of women were concerned that doctors did not consider patient perspective or non-pharmaceutical options for their sexual health concerns, no men found these reasons disagreeable.
Female respondents appeared to have a more challenging time conveying their experiences to doctors. Eight respondents expressed that they felt ignored because their doctors made no attempt to understand their medical experiences, while only one man felt his experiences were misunderstood. Similarly, only one male respondent felt that his doctor undermined the intensity of his pain, whereas six female respondents were frustrated because they felt their pain had been trivialized.
Their exasperation could be justified as, though a substantial portion of American women experience some form of painful sexual dysfunction, experts say they rarely receive effective treatment.
Confide with Confidence
As our findings make clear, a significant portion of patients have found some medical professionals lack attention and empathy. This phenomenon persists throughout the world despite disparities in regional culture and emerges in connection with a range of issues, including general and sexual health concerns. Certainly, feeling dismissed by one's doctor can have powerful emotional consequences – an earnest desire for help can turn quickly to pain and shame. But the effects of such insensitivity can be even more far-reaching, including missed diagnoses that delay necessary care.
If you feel your doctor is ignoring your needs, don't opt for silence just to avoid conflict. Speak up for what you're feeling, or seek a second (and more sympathetic) opinion. If you've been frustrated by the cost or quality of the care you've received previously, our team of online medical professionals offers a potential alternative. Blending convenience and compassion, our model gives customers access to the care they deserve, accessible from any location.
We surveyed 547 Europeans and 544 Americans. Of our 1,091 respondents, 498 identified as men and 493 identified as women, leaving 100 respondents that neither define themselves as a man or woman. Respondents answered questions about experiences with doctors they had visited within the last 12 months. Participants who did not identify with either sex were not included in calculations specifically pertaining to sex-based observations.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
You're welcome to share our findings and images with your own audience online, so long as you do so for noncommercial purposes. But if you do use our content, please don't dismiss the hard work we've done! Simply link back this page to attribute our team appropriately.