The Communication Gap Between Patients and Practitioners Is Dangerous – Here’s What We Can Do About It

When you’re in the vulnerable position of seeking help from a healthcare provider, you really want to enter the situation knowing you’ll be heard, seen and understood. And that’s the goal of your provider too, of course.

But too often, in these situations where a patient is tasked with relaying their symptoms and explaining exactly what feels wrong or worrisome, that’s not the case. In a recent survey conducted by SheKnows looking at the experiences of more than 1500 women, we found that 66 percent of respondents said they struggle to accurately describe their ailment or condition to a provider and 81 percent have reported feeling misunderstood by a medical professional.

And we’ve all been there: Knowing something is wrong yet finding it hard to put to words exactly what it is without resorting to the terminology found during scary late-night google searches or vague descriptions of discomfort. But communication gaps such as this can absolutely put a strain on patient-provider relations, contributing to individuals feeling like they’re being medically gaslit or hopeless about getting treated for their conditions. To get a better understanding of how this happens, the dangers of this communication gap and what patients and providers can do about it, SheKnows asked a few experts to weigh in.

The Dangers of Feeling Misunderstood

Rachel Kaplan, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist who specializes in working with adults with chronic illnesses, told SheKnows that “while it is very common to feel misunderstood by your doctor, it is also a very isolating and discouraging experience.”

After all, as Kaplan notes, people seeking healthcare are looking for “safety in their relationship with their doctor” — and just going in to the doctor’s office can be anxiety-inducing if you’re worried about getting bad news or have had negative experiences in healthcare before.

Working with both patients and medical teams, Kaplan says she’s found issues on both sides of the dynamic that can contribute to misunderstandings and conflict.

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