Study: Young Women Have More Negative Interactions With Healthcare Providers Than Men

  • Nearly 50% of young women in the United States report having a negative interaction with a healthcare provider in the past two years.
  • Women who identified as being in low-income households, being without insurance, and living with a disability or ongoing health issue were among the most common demographics with negative experiences.
  • Experts recommend a few ways women can advocate for themselves in healthcare settings, but encourage women to find a new healthcare professional if negative interactions persist.

Nearly half of the young women in the United States report having a negative interaction with a healthcare provider in the past two years, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Researchers said that among the roughly 2,900 women ages 18 to 35 who participated in the survey, 46% of them felt dismissed, blamed, doubted, or discriminated against based on their age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal traits.

“The vast majority of people feel they’re having good experiences with clinicians, but what we found was that this was not universal,” Alina Salganicoff, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director of Women’s Health Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told Health. “It’s very unfortunate, but some of these things are not surprising.”

Woman at doctor's office

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What the Research Shows About Different Groups and the Healthcare System

Dr. Salganicoff and her colleagues discovered some demographical consistencies in the responses they received. There was a significant overlap in experiencing poor interactions with providers and the following surveyed characteristics: low-income households (45%), being without insurance (46%), living with a disability or ongoing health condition (45%).

While these demographical characteristics were also noted as impacting the percentage of men who experienced a negative interaction with a healthcare provider, Dr. Salganicoff noted that women still reported a higher percentage. Even though the most common types of negative interaction were the same for both gender groups, the rate of that interaction occurring was slightly lower for men compared to the female participants.

Most Common Types of Negative Interactions with a Healthcare Provider

While there are a variety of specific interactions Dr. Salganicoff and her team studied, the following were the most common:

  • Healthcare providers dismissing the patient's concerns
  • Provider not believing the patient was telling the truth
  • Provider discriminating against the patient during their visit

While the researchers did not study why negative provider interactions are more common in certain groups over others, Dr. Salganicoff pointed out one potential explanation—women tend to have more contact with healthcare providers than men. 

Other factors that could impact a patient’s experience with their doctor include provider implicit bias and constraints on time and resources of the healthcare system, Monique Gary, DO, a breast surgical oncologist and Medical Director of the Grand View Health cancer program, in Sellersville, PA, told Health

Dr. Gary hypothesized that some providers may have implicit bias—a form of bias that can unintentionally impact their judgment, decisions, and behaviors.

“When you already have a strained healthcare system and you add patients who perhaps have a lower level of health literacy or feel mistrustful, doctors may do what’s called verbal dominance,” Dr. Gary explained. “That’s where they talk over that patient, they use jargon that a patient may not understand, they don’t sit down and look at the patient eye to eye, and they just continue to talk over those patients.”

Dr. Gary also noted constraints on time and resources within the healthcare system that can impact the interactions patients have with their providers. If a provider is rushing through a long list of patients, their ability to take time to sit with each patient and thoroughly answer all their questions can easily become compromised.

Impact of Negative Interaction on Patients

Negative interactions with providers can cause patients to delay care or even decrease the utilization of certain health services, which can lead to poorer health outcomes and health inequities.

“Patients are going to be less likely to ask about the services that they need from a system where they don’t feel received and are less likely to utilize financial resources and social services,” Dr. Gary added. “That can impact their finances, their family, their access to care, and even patient outcomes and survival.”

Additionally, negative experiences with providers tend to lead to further distrust of the healthcare system.

“There is already such a strong medical distrust between communities and the health profession. We saw it during COVID and we saw it with vaccines,” she continued. “For folks who are not trusting in the health system, these negative interactions will only continue to bolster that medical mistrust, and that’s unfortunate.” 

How to Advocate For Yourself at the Doctor's Office

If you are struggling with not feeling heard by a healthcare provider, experts recommend a few different tips to take with you to your next visit.

Bring a Family Member or Friend to Your Appointment

Dr. Gary recommends bringing a trusted family member or friend to your appointment with you. Ask them to help take notes about what the provider is saying, ask questions that you may not think of, and slow down the conversation between you and your provider. This can be especially helpful for individuals who require translation services.

“Bringing an advocate can help invite conversation that slows down the course of that clinical encounter,” she noted. “When someone else is in that room, chances are, you’ll be spending a little bit longer in that room so that everyone has an understanding of what’s going on.”

Repeat Information Back to Your Provider

Dr. Salganicoff recommends repeating information back to your provider. This allows you to fully understand what the provider is saying and gives them the opportunity to clarify anything that you may have misunderstood. This can be especially useful in situations where a health condition or diagnosis is new to a patient.

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

Dr. Gary suggests coming up with a list of questions for your provider. Examples include:

  • When should I follow up about this?
  • What signs or symptoms should I watch out for?
  • What testing is required to move forward, and who do I contact to make those appointments?

Having questions prepared can give you a better understanding of your health condition, what you should do, and what to expect after your doctor’s visit. 

Ask Your Provider "What Would You Do?"

Lastly, experts recommend asking your provider what they would do in your situation. This allows them to bring up any other points or concerns you may have forgotten to ask about. It also allows you to have more discussion and ask additional questions.

Dr. Gary explained, “This gives them the chance to show that humanity and let you know that what they’re offering you is the same thing they would offer to their loved one.”

When It's Time to Find a New Doctor

If you continue to feel mistreated, dismissed, or discriminated against by your healthcare provider, it could be time for you to find a new doctor, Dr. Gary noted.

Before committing to a new doctor, here are some things you should consider:

  • Research different providers, what their expertise is, and what services they offer.
  • Ask for a referral/recommendation from a trusted family member, friend, colleague, or healthcare specialist. 
  • Consider ratings and comments on a physician’s websites; however, avoid using the ratings to make your final choice. 

“I would encourage people to try again, be proactive, be specific in what they need, and don’t give up.” Dr. Gary recommended confidently. “It is important to seek out the care that you deserve. You deserve good care.” 

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  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. Women’s experiences with provider communication and interactions in health care settings: findings from the 2022 KFF women’s health survey.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Implicit bias.

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