Making Invisible Patients Visible

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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You may have felt what Bethanee Epifani Bryant has felt in a doctor’s office. I think many patients have, but most of us can’t paint the picture of our experiences that Bryant can paint. And she paints it using words. Bryant is a poet.

“I sit on the examination table vulnerable, openly allowing him to dissect my body and

fix what had been broken

I tell him where it hurts

My words pass through him and do not take root

My concerns do not resonate

I realize he does not speak

my language.”

–“White Coats,” by Bethanee Epifani Bryant

Bryant wrote “White Coats” after being examined by two physicians who, she felt, failed to hear her. Specifically, Bryant felt they weren’t listening to her because she is a black woman.

Bryant read “White Coats” as an introduction to her keynote speech at a conference held by the publication Medical Marketing and Media last March. “Both doctors did their job accordingly,” the MM&M e-letter quotes Bryant as telling the audience of medical marketers, “but neither one was truly seeing me, listening to me or understanding me. And I know I’m not alone in my experiences. They are the experiences of people of color and those of the LGBTQ community that continuously go overlooked.”

In my experience, however, the problem isn’t limited to those groups.

The invisible patients

From what I’ve read on social media groups, it can also be the experience of people without insurance, or without good insurance. Or old people. Or people with chronic illnesses, such as MS, who reach out to their doctors a little more  frequently than some doctors may like. I call these people “invisible patients,” and Bryant believes they may not receive proper treatment, or may become scared or discouraged and simply avoid seeking it.

These are patients like Bryant’s aunt, who saw a doctor because she’d discovered a lump on her breast. The doctor didn’t order an X-ray and provided only a cursory exam, but he told the aunt that the lump required immediate surgery. Bryant’s mother, however, suggested that the aunt get a second opinion. That exam determined that the lump was nothing more than fatty tissue; no surgery was necessary.

Bryant is quoted as saying, “My mom was bold enough to look beyond his white coat to see a man who cared nothing for her sister, who cared nothing about providing proper and well-informed treatment. This is someone more interested in satisfying his own ego than caring for his patient.

“We understand this ignorance does not reflect everyone in the [healthcare] industry,” she continued, “but it reflects enough to the point that it is a national concern. It reflects that people still receive unequal treatment depending on what they look like.”

Making the invisible patient visible

How can we solve this problem? Bryant suggests that better inclusivity would help. But is invisibility a problem of sexism, racism, and prejudice, as Bryant suggests, and a problem that more diversity in the industry can help solve? Or is it simply a problem of doctors with too little time and too large an ego? Maybe it’s something else.

What do you think? Have you ever been invisible?

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Russ Hicks avatar

Russ Hicks

Re Invisible Patients
My own experience is from the UK, so thankfully insurance issues don't arise, however, invisibility still happens!
My MS consultant, a Professor no less, shall remain nameless, but on one visit he asked if a student may join us. I have no issues with aiding the education of junior doctors. However, for the whole of the consultation the Professor was totally absorbed in providing info to the student, pointing at me at various times to illustrate his talk. If I had known that I was to become a simple prop for the Prof to use in this fashion I feel sure I would have refused the request!

Glenda avatar


Or male.
Or female.
Or confused.
Or just has too much to say.
I considered my previous role as a nurse to be an interpreter,
To make issues concise.
Rushed physician don’t hear.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Glenda,

You've hit on a very important nursing role and it's that's frequently overlooked. I would be great if all nurses would realize the need for them to translate doctalk into information that's presented slowly and understandably.



Janice Barton avatar

Janice Barton

Its not just happening in the medical field or an issue isolated to a specific demographic and i think its to do with global changes to societies norm. Individuals are not seen anymore because the focus is on keeping up with the days schedule, in medicine patients are no longer individuals with their undivided attention because we've become a number on today's line up lol Lemming number 999999,Lemming number 1000000, Lunch, Lemming number 1000001 repeat repeat

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

That's an interesting idea, Janice. I'm very fortunate to have a neurologist who sees her patients as individuals. She often shares a hug with many of them when they come to see her. She's a rarity in today's world.



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