Making Invisible Patients Visible
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
–“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 www.themswire.com.
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