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Should anyone dread doctors?

To the editor:

Having experienced it so many times before, I knew before the appointment the battle we would have; the battle to be taken seriously and not discounted. The surgeon began by telling us he read my mother’s file and giving an awkward acknowledgement to “all her medical history” meaning my mother’s mental illness.

This was not a good start, as her mental illness had nothing to do with the medical treatment she was seeking. He waited to hear our questions and reasons for why we were requesting a second opinion. His demeanor said “this is not worth my time.” After asking several questions which required explanatory answers all we received was “yeah, yes” brushing off our questions and not providing the answers we requested.

Going to the doctor should not be this hard. It should not require aggressive advocacy to attain a minimum of healthcare resources–knowledge through an appointment that is being paid for. Particularly, when health information is so valuable and leads to quality and length of life. 

This is by no means an isolated instance for my mother or any others with mental illness or those who are African American or women. A far greater number of these groups report being discounted compared to their counterparts, and evidence supports their’s and my mother’s experiences.

Evidence suggests doctors are less likely to order further diagnostic tests based on patient pain reports for those who have mental illness. Indeed, the evidence is so persuasive that interventions designed to develop implicit bias training are being created.

The goal of these trainings is to reduce the stereotypes doctors attribute to their mentally ill patients. An example of a stereotype is that mentally ill people overstate their pain. However, while implicit bias training is needed and valuable, I do not think any training is required to treat every patient with respect and common decency. I shudder to think about those who do not have the confidence, strength, or someone to fight for them. They are likely to forgo doctor visits at their own detriment. If anything those who have mental illness should be treated with more patience and kindness not less.

To eliminate health disadvantages, we need to provide “equal access to the resources that improve quality of life” – Daniel J. Loepp. Let this equal access start in the doctor’s office, and in particular, let this cultural change start in the Aspirus and UP Health System-Portage hospitals. I expected more from our hospitals and I’m disappointed I was proven wrong. However, I do believe they can do better and make small but impactful changes to increase their quality of care.

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