Many different factors influence how accurately a physician can diagnose a patient. The way in which an individual communicates their symptoms, their embarrassment over certain medical issues and even the doctor’s internal biases can all play a role in someone going undiagnosed or receiving an inaccurate diagnosis.
People like to think of doctors as impartial, but they are subject to the same social messages as everyone else. Internal bias among physicians is actually more common than people might realize. Doctors of both genders may have a subconscious, internalized bias against female patients that manifests in a failure to accurately diagnose someone in a timely manner.
Doctors think of women as hysterical or unreliable
Decades of mainstream culture depicting women as people who habitually exaggerated and who get emotional has led to physicians perceiving self-reported pain among women as less serious than self-reported pain among men. Modern research has begun to show that gender may play a role in how someone experiences pain, handles pain and remembers the pain later.
Women who self-report serious pain may find that their doctor doesn’t believe them or at least thinks it’s less serious than a man’s self-reported pain at the same rough degree of discomfort. Additionally, doctors may attribute pain and other symptoms to “feminine issues,” such as menstruation, instead of considering them fully as independent symptoms. Ignoring women’s self-reported symptoms can mean a substantial delay in them receiving the care that they need.
Too many doctors consider the male experience the standard
Women and men have certain differences that impact how they experience medical conditions and how they respond to medications. Unfortunately, many medical professionals and researchers treat the male experience of disease as the standard.
Knowing the male symptoms for health conditions while ignoring the unique symptoms that female patients could present could mean discharging a woman experiencing an emergency medical event, such as a stroke or heart attack.
Heart disease symptoms in women often don’t align with the standard male symptoms, which is one reason why women under 50 who experience heart attacks have double the mortality rate of men the same age with the same condition. Physicians should know that certain conditions present differently in women and make every effort to accurately attribute symptoms to gender-appropriate diagnoses. Failing to diagnose a patient because of gender bias could lead to later malpractice claims.