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How To Get Your Doctor To Listen To You and Secure the Medical Care You Deserve

Turns out a using few simple phrases will make healthcare providers take you seriously

If your aches or ailments have ever been dismissed as typical “female bothers,” a result of your weight or simply part of getting older, you’re not alone: In a recent survey, over half of women said that doctors dismissing patients’ symptoms based on gender bias — a phenomenon called medical gaslighting — is a major concern. Keep reading for easy ways to take back control of your healthcare and become your best advocate.

1. Create your ‘elevator pitch’

Most doctors and clinicians are under such tremendous time pressure, they interrupt patients a mere 11 seconds into the appointment on average. That’s why it’s so important to be concise with your concerns.

“List your symptoms and describe when they’re occurring and what makes them worse or better,” advises patient advocate and healthcare journalist Helene M. Epstein. “If you’re having chest pain, for example, you might say, ‘It tends to get worse when I exercise,’ or, ‘It wakes me up at night. I first noticed it X weeks ago, and it’s happening more often.’ Try to cover the important facts in under three minutes.” Being clear and and concise will help keep the medical staff focused and engaged.

MUST-READ: Feel Unheard by Your Doctors? 6 Ways to Make Them Listen To You

2. Bring someone you trust

Two heads really are better than one when it comes to medical appointments, assures patient advocate Tamara Porter, DNP, RN.

“Take someone you trust with you to jot down notes; I bring my husband.” She says the mere presence of a buddy tends to make medical staff perk up. “I know as a nurse, when I see two people in the room, it gets my attention, and I’m little bit more alert because there’s an ‘audience.’”

Mature female patient sitting on exam table discusses her care with her doctor as her adult daughter looks on
Getty/Thomas Barwick

3. Outsmart medical gaslighting

How common is medical gaslighting, dismissing your symptoms or chalking them up to a mental condition? “I haven’t spoken to a woman with a chronic illness who hasn’t experienced it,” says Ilana Jacqueline, author of Medical Gaslighting: How to Get the Care You Deserve in a System that Makes You Fight for Your Life. She reveals there are four red flags go look for:

  1. Blaming your symptoms on mental health: You may hear something like, “You’re just overwhelmed or stressed out.” (Ahh, that old chestnut!)
  2. Giving alternative motive excuses: This means they imply you’re hiding the true reason behind your symptoms.“For example, if you have abdominal pain after sex, they might suggest it’s actually because you’re not attracted to your partner,” says Jacqueline.
  3. Making insufficient data excuses: They run basic tests and claim you’re fine. If you suspect this is going on, Jacqueline advises asking if there are other tests that might explain your symptoms.
  4. Giving comparative excuses: They frame your symptoms as less severe than they actually are based on unrelated cases, as in, “Everyone has pain,” or “I have patients much sicker than you.” The goods news? Just knowing the signs of gaslighting will spur you to find the care you deserve.

MUST-READ: Is Someone Gaslighting You? These Are the Signs To Look For

4. Ask three simple questions

If you feel you’re not being heard, Epstein suggests asking three key questions: ‘What might this be?’, ‘What do I do if my symptoms get worse?’ and ‘What else could this be?’ These questions make the doctor consider and rule the most dangerous conditions.” And if your primary care doctor is still ignoring you? “You might say, ‘I’m still having chest pains; should I see a cardiologist?’ or, ‘I still have stomach pain; should I see a gastroenterologist?’ If you specifically name a specialist, they’ll usually refer you.”

5. Put it in your own words

Before you leave your appointment, summarize what you’ve learned in your own words, encourages Porter. She explains that research at the University of Arkansas shows this is a key step to ensuring you get the right care.

“You might tell them, for example, ‘I’m hearing you say that if my blood sugar is 100, I should call you; is that right?” she says. “The doctor may respond, ‘No, that’s a normal number—if it’s over 200, you should call me.’” And be clear on your next steps: “Ask questions like, ‘Do I need to schedule a follow-up? How will I know what you’re advising me to do is working? What do I need to do before I see you next?” This simple back-and-forth ensures you and your doctor are on the same page.

Female patient happily talking with her doctor
Getty/Larry Williams & Associates

6. Don’t be afraid to change doctors

If you feel in your gut something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion, urges Porter. “Most insurance pays for it and Medicare pays for up to three opinions.” She says you can simply call asking them to send your medical records to X office for a second opinion. And if you need to make a change, consider a generational shift, adds Epstein.

“Sometimes younger doctors are better listeners. They have less experience but more up-to-date training.” Live in a rural area where doctors can be scarce? “A lot of insurance companies offer free second opinions digitally,” says Epstein. “Ask for help or referrals, and they’ll direct you to the right next steps.”

For more stories on ensuring people listen to you (outside the doctor’s office):

6 Steps to Stop People Pleasing and Put Yourself First

Expert Advice: How Can I Stop Being a Chronic People Pleaser?

Do You Give Too Much to Others? (4 Ways to Prioritize Yourself To Restore Inner Peace)

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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