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It’s a well-known fact that men and women tend to express pain, whether physical or psychological, in different ways. They’re also treated differently because of it. Evidence shows women are often deemed “overly dramatic” and dismissed by medical professionals, which has deadly consequences.
There is no clear explanation for why this is happening, but Mahlet Endale, a licensed psychologist based in Atlanta, said “implicit gender bias may be playing a role in whether a woman’s reports of pain are believed or not.”
There also seems to be a similar “race-based implicit bias,” as well, Endale added. And as a result, women of color are often at a greater risk of being overlooked by their physicians.
“It seems more is offered to white patients than black patients,” Endale said. “So, when you have a black female patient experiencing unexplained pain around a pregnancy, she falls in the crosshairs of her intersecting identities.” The issue of women being overlooked doesn’t just stop there though: Older women and trans women are also experiencing their share of discrimination based solely on their gender.
Simply put, it’s 2019 and it’s past time women are heard and believed by physicians. We demand it. In an effort to help, HuffPost reached out to several experts to get a few practical tips that could be beneficial during upcoming appointments. (Not that it should even have to come to this in the first place.) Here’s what you should know so you can get the best care possible:
Check the reviews before you go.
You investigate before making a restaurant reservation. Why should your health care professional be any different?
“If possible, vet all your treating professionals regarding the diversity of their patient load,” Endale said. “There are all kinds of treatment- and locale-specific women’s groups through platforms like Facebook, [like] Georgia Moms for Better Birth. Ask other women on these platforms if there are treatment providers who have been especially good listeners. When doing so, look for a consensus rather than one person who [says] a provider is great or terrible.”
Quantify your issues.
Now that you’ve found your new doctor or even if you’re planning a visit to your regular physician, a great tip to getting your point across is by “presenting [your concerns] to your doctor with measurable data,” said Jolene Brighten, author of Beyond the Pill and founder of Rubus Health, a women’s medicine clinic.
“Stating your concerns in quantifiable terms can help you convey the seriousness of your concern,” Brighten continued. “For example, rather than saying that you are concerned you’re waking a lot to use the bathroom at night, you can record how often that is and say to your doctor, ‘I wake six to eight times at night to use the bathroom and I am concerned.’”
Write it down and don’t hesitate to say it.
Doctors often have a full waiting room with only a limited amount of time available for each patient. In order to optimize your time together, you should try “organizing and writing down your questions before you are at your doctor’s office and jumping right into asking your questions early in your appointment,” said Liz Lyster, a hormone expert and physician based in Foster City, California.
Marla Deibler, a clinical psychologist and founder of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, agreed, adding that it’s best to voice your concerns immediately, instead of waiting for your doctor to bring it up.
“Don’t wait for a healthcare provider to ask you or provide you with specific information,” she said. “For example, women over 35 may choose to ask about preventative mammograms, or those over 45 may choose to ask about preventive colonoscopies. Women entering menopause may want to ask questions of their healthcare provider about changes in menstruation, libido, bone density or other potential impacts of aging or hormonal changes.”
This also goes for your mental health, too. “Trans women may choose to ask questions about the process of transitioning or about community resources for support,” Deibler added.
Have it repeated.
If you don’t think your doctor is listening to you at all, ask them to repeat your previously mentioned issues, said Jennifer Conti, an OB/GYN at Stanford University and co-host of ”The V Word” podcast.
“Ask your provider to repeat back to you what your concern is,” she said. “Sometimes getting the provider to verbally acknowledge your words is enough to chip away at the barrier so that you can get the care you need.”
Be your own advocate.
If you ever feel like you’re being rushed or dismissed, Deibler said it’s important to look beyond the white coat and stand up for yourself.
“[You could say,] ‘It seems as though you are in a rush. I understand that your time is valuable and want to respect that, but I need to make sure you have heard how intense my pain is,’” she said.
Ask a trusted professional to advocate for you.
If you’re having a hard time advocating for yourself, consider asking for help. In her own practice, Endale said if her patients are managing other medical concerns or working with a psychiatrist, she often checks in “to see how heard they feel in those relationships.”
“If they don’t feel heard, I help them formulate a plan to express this to their provider,” she said.
As for pregnant women looking for an advocate, Endale suggested considering a doula. “Vet the doula to make sure this person really gets you and the type of birth you are hoping for, and then let them advocate for you with your medical providers,” she added.
Bottom line: You deserve good care. Remember that.