Doctors Don’t Believe Us Anymore, And We’re Suffering For It

How can you be a doctor if you refuse to listen to your patients?

“At least you have your health” is a popular phrase, and for a good reason.

Taking care of your health is important, no matter what kind of health you find yourself needing to spend your energy on. Our health is what keeps us as happy and productive as we can manage, whether that means working up the mental fortitude to go to the grocery store, or jogging five miles every morning.

Given the value we place on health, you’d think fewer people would be afraid of seeing their doctors. Sure, there’s the anxiety factor – what if you have some kind of hidden disease? What if your blood test results aren’t where you want them to be? And a certain amount of that is both normal and, well, healthy. But there’s another factor involved here, and it has less to do with the factual results and more to do with the doctors themselves.

,Whether it’s out of ego or laziness, they assume that if what you’re telling them doesn’t fit their idea of what should be true, you shouldn’t be trusted.

As a fat woman I experience this frequently. I step on the scale and it doesn’t take a hot second for the doctor to start telling me all about how my cholesterol and blood pressure will both be through the roof, putting me at an increased risk for heart disease. I take on the tone I always have to adopt, one of a placating and exhausted repeat educator, and answer all their questions about my diet and physical activity. They don’t believe me. And when the blood tests come back proving I was in fact – shock, horror! – telling the truth, I don’t get so much as an apology. Just the same cycle the next time I come into the office.

The fact I also happen to be a queer woman means I also get to experience this patronizing scrutiny on a different level; it usually starts with the common health-related question, “When was the last time you had sex?”

I may have had sex last week, but if my doctor’s trying to figure out if my symptoms are pregnancy-related, nothing I say is going to be super helpful. Last time I checked, a penis had to be involved for spontaneous surprise pregnancies to happen, and as I’ve never had sex with a man, that’s not really a relevant factor.

The question reliably descends into interrogation, after I’m forced to explain, “Well I had sex recently, but there wasn’t a penis involved’, which is inevitably met with disbelief and further questioning. Some doctors haven’t even bothered to hide their disgust. I had one flat-out disbelieve me. “You’ve never had real sex? Not even once?”

It’s not only offensive to imply that a female patient has to have had sex with someone with a penis to have had ‘real sex’, or that her size indicates she must have a wildly unhealthy lifestyle; it’s an attitude which is causing many patients to be left to suffer in silent pain – or worse still, lose their ovaries after having their symptoms diminished because they don’t fit neatly into a preconceived box.

How can you be a doctor if you refuse to listen to your patients? Do you think you know everything there is to know, or that every human body must function within the same set of parameters? Or are you just so lazy that any aliment that doesn’t fit into your easy list of tick boxes isn’t worth researching?

The doctor-patient relationship is slowly dying. As is the willingness of women to see a doctor in the first place at all. In a survey conducted by online appointment site, ZocDoc, half of millennials said they visited a doctor less than once a year, with 93 per cent saying they didn’t schedule preventative visits at all.

The number of people I know of who see a doctor as often as they’re supposed to is so small I can count them on one hand. And the number of people most of us know who have stories of persistently ignored health problems worsened over time by doctors’ ignorance, is startling.

Doctors need to start believing in their patients. And if they don’t, we can chalk even semi-decent healthcare up alongside home ownership and a debt-free college experience as yet another privilege my generation isn’t going to get to have.

Comment: Have you had an experience with a doctor not taking your symptoms seriously?