How stereotypes can lead to missed diagnoses

Stereotypes can be problematic in just about any setting, from the classroom to the workplace to a courtroom. Stereotypes can lead to skewed, oversimplified opinions, which can be completely inaccurate. Unfortunately, it is hard to get away from stereotypes, even when they have harmful results.

For instance, a recent article from Popular Science explored the problems with stereotyping patients in a medical setting. According to the report, stereotyping illnesses as a "male disease" or a "female" disease can potentially lead to misdiagnoses. 

"Male" vs "Female" Conditions

There are countless illnesses that affect one gender more than the other. However, assuming that someone doesn't have a particular illness strictly because of the person's gender can lead to a missed diagnosis and delayed treatment. This is the problem with stereotyping, especially as we learn more about illnesses and who they affect.

The article specifically calls out chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cluster headaches as conditions that may be under diagnosed in women because they are stereotypically "male" diseases. Illnesses like breast cancer, depression and fibromyalgia may be under diagnosed in men because they are stereotypically "female" diseases. Doctors might assume a person doesn't have these illnesses because of his or her gender, even when he or she is exhibiting all the telltale symptoms.

What can be done?

There is no single, easy answer for addressing wrongful stereotypes in medicine. The fact that certain illnesses affect one gender more than the other is vital information doctors should consider when making a diagnosis and ordering tests. However, relying too heavily on that one element can lead to mistakes and oversights. 

Not getting an accurate diagnosis right away can be frustrating for doctors and patients, and emotions are often running high when patients feel invisible and doctors feel overworked.

In situations when a diagnosis is missed or delayed, legal claims can arise. Considering how technical and complex these claims can be, it is often wise for all parties involved to discuss their legal rights and options with an attorney experienced in medical malpractice claims.

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