The majority of patients feel disrespected by their doctor

Steven Loeb · December 22, 2022 · Short URL:

Most people feel their physician is biased against them, ignores them, and makes assumptions

Obviously nobody wants to be ignored or dismissed in any context, it's rude and dismissive, which only makes it that much worse when it happens in the context of a healthcare setting: this person is being charged with making you feel better and they are telling you, either implicitly or explicitly, that they don't even believe you're sick. It's hard to imagine a more helpless feeling than that.

Yet, that's what happens to a majority of people, according to a MITRE-Harris Poll Survey on Patient Experience.

This survey, which was conducted online in September, and recorded the responses of 2,047 adults, found that 52% of individuals in the United States feel their symptoms are “ignored, dismissed, or not believed” when seeking medical treatment.

Additionally, 40% of those responded said they felt that the “healthcare provider is biased against me based on their attitude, words, or actions.”

The number only rises when broken down across racial lines: with 60% of Hispanics expressing that they've felt ignored or dismissed, and more than 50% of Black and Hispanic respondents saying they felt the doctor was biased against them.

Meanwhile, half of all respondents also also said they had experienced “a healthcare provider assuming something about me without asking me.”

Other groups that were more likely to experience bias, doubt, or language barriers include those with disabilities or a chronic health condition, family caregivers, and those in the LGBTQ+ community. 

“These findings confirm unacceptable disparities in patient experience along racial and ethnic lines, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for those who are managing chronic health conditions or navigating the world with disabilities,” Juliette Forstenzer Espinosa, senior Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act Marketplace strategist at MITRE, said in a statement.

“And these categories are, of course, intersectional. There’s no question there is work to do to better serve all populations at the point-of-care.”

Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum: all of these biases, and the lack of trust they instill in a patient, will change the way people interact with the healthcare system. Interestingly, one result, according to the findings of this survey, seems to be that it has forced marginalized people to become better at navigating the system than those who are less likely to perceive bias. 

For instance, nearly 90% said they use online patient portals, with 70% using them for test results, 64% for appointments, and 63% to access medical records. While 58% use them to find a healthcare provider, 54% use them for reviewing insurance benefits and managing prescriptions, only 37% use portals for filing a health insurance claim. Black, Indigenous, and people of color, however, are more likely than white patients to use patient portals to find a healthcare provider or file a claim.

In addition, it's individuals self-identifying as disabled or dealing with chronic illness, caregivers, Hispanics, and younger generations are more likely to say they know whom to contact if they have issues, while overall 54% say they don’t know.

Even so, patient navigation is still difficult for patients in these marginalized groups, Rob Jekielek, managing director, The Harris Poll, said.

“With the evolution of online patient portals and digital support tools, we have seen stronger usage among those who need to navigate the system the most—individuals with a chronic illness or disability and those who manage the healthcare needs of others," he said in a statement.

"However, this has not translated to substantially lower frustration with the healthcare system, including understanding of coverage and claims. Confusion and uncertainty are even higher among the majority of Americans who use the system sporadically, or only when specific needs arise.” 

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