Doctors, like the rest of us, are only human. They can make errors, they can jump to conclusions, and they may be swayed – however unknowingly – by tiny biases and assumptions.
If this really is inevitable, what can we actually do about it?
Prevention has recently identified some of the most common, best-researched ways doctors may, despite their best intentions, fall into this trap.
If you’re a woman, your heart attack may go undiagnosed
According to a study by The Journal of the American Medical Association, women are 11% less likely to feel chest discomfort or pain – the signs doctors are traditionally taught to look for.
A little extra awareness on the symptoms of a female heart attack could make all the difference. Look out for nausea, shortness of breath and lightheadedness; be particularly wary if you have a family history; tell medical staff if you are concerned specifically of a heart attack so they can take the extra steps to find out.
If you have cooked teeth, you might not get a referral
This concerning study by the University of Toronto suggests doctors could jump to conclusions about bad teeth. They subconsciously suggest the patient is poorer, which, in turn, could inadvertently result in slower referrals and longer wait times.
To avoid this, Prevention suggests asking the doctor specifically for specialists who could help your condition. Bringing a family member along can also help eliminate any subconscious bias.
If you are overweight, you might not get a cancer screening
As with teeth, weight can create a lot of unfair biases and assumptions. Frustratingly, it can be human nature to perceive weight problems as laziness and a lack of motivation when it comes to following advice. One study on weight bias shows that obese patients are less likely to get screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer.
Of course, it’s unfair to suggest all doctors are prone to this bias, but if in doubt, it helps once again to bring a friend or family member. Not only can they help make your case; their simply being there will also help squash any immediate biases.
Do you have a comfortable relationship with your doctor? Do you believe you have ever been overlooked or mis-diagnosed this way?