Your cramps have been out of this world for the last three cycles, so, like the adult you are, you schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN — and leave feeling like they didn't hear a word you said. It can be a frustrating experience at best; at worst, vital health concerns can be overlooked or diagnosed far later than they should be. If you feel like your doctor isn't taking you seriously, you should feel empowered to deal with it.
Being misdiagnosed or not given proper treatment is a persistent problem. According to Harvard Health, women wait around 15 minutes longer than men for pain relief in hospitals, and are more likely to be given sedatives for pain rather than actual prescription drugs. Advocating for yourself can get you the help you need.
"It's so important to feel heard and validated in the clinic," Dr. Jenn Conti M.D., an OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor, tells Bustle. "Just like any other relationship in life, good communication is key."
Understanding why your doctor might not be as attentive as you feel they should be can help, too. "Often there are obstacles to obtain an appropriate history of the problem, such as time slot restrictions, pressure for productivity, or patients having too many complaints to address at one time thoroughly," Dr. Natasha Spencer M.D., an OB-GYN at Orlando Health Physician Associates, tells Bustle. Some physicians also aren't trained to see uncommon or rare disorders, she says, so may not know how to deal with them. It's not an excuse, but it is an explanation.
Whether your OB-GYN is stressed, uncertain of the problem, or being dismissive of you for reasons you don't understand, you still deserve the best of care. If you feel too upset or unable to talk about it at the time, Dr. Spencer says you should try to follow up with another appointment with the same provider, bringing somebody with you as back-up if you need. If there are other people in the office, like nurses, Dr. Michael Cackovic M.D., a maternal and fetal medicine OB-GYN at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center suggests turning to them for support or advocacy; they can operate as a go-between if you and the OB-GYN aren't communicating.
Not sure what to say? Having a prepared script can help. Dr. Felice Gersh M.D., an OB-GYN at the Integrative Medical Group suggests saying something like, "I feel that you are not taking my concerns seriously, which makes me feel minimized and devalued. What I am telling you is a real worry to me and so I would appreciate it if you would help me to understand what is happening, and also provide viable and tangible suggestions." She also suggests telling them that you're there because you value their expertise and experience, and really need their help. Dr. Cackovic suggests being absolutely direct when you're in the exam room. "If you do not believe that your concerns are being taken seriously, ask specifically what the plan is for your concern, and for an explanation of the plan."
"Most of us like when patients take responsibility and advocate for themselves, so don’t worry that you are challenging your provider," Dr. Cackovic says. But if a conversation hasn't created change, it may be time to look elsewhere. Dr. Spencer and Dr. Conti suggest asking to see another OB-GYN at the same practice, or going to your primary care for a referral somewhere else; they should be able to direct you to a provider who'll give you the care you need.
"Patients need to remember that they are their own best advocates," Dr. Spencer says. "If you feel that something is wrong, be persistent in addressing the issue." Even if you're upset or annoyed, remember that your body's worth it.
Dr. Michael Cackovic M.D.
Dr. Jenn Conti M.D.
Dr. Felice Gersh M.D.
Dr. Natasha Spencer M.D.