Can You Sue for Medical Gaslighting?


In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has gained significant attention, especially in the context of interpersonal relationships. However, its presence in the medical field has been overlooked until recently.

The term “gaslighting” originated from the 1938 play “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton.

It describes a form of psychological manipulation that encourages the victim to distrust or disbelieve their own memories or thoughts. Medical gaslighting occurs when healthcare providers dismiss or belittle a patient’s symptoms, or tell them, “It’s all in your head,” leading them to doubt their own experiences and concerns.

But can patients take legal action against such behavior?

Understanding Medical Gaslighting

Medical gaslighting can manifest in various forms, from doctors downplaying symptoms to outright refusal to acknowledge a patient’s pain or discomfort.

Patients, particularly those from marginalized communities here in Texas and New Mexico, may find themselves facing disbelief or skepticism from healthcare professionals, exacerbating feelings of frustration and helplessness.

According to a recent Scientific America article, women, LGBTQ individuals, and the elderly are commonly victims of gaslighting, as well.

Medical Gaslighting and the Law

While medical gaslighting is a serious concern, proving it in a court of law can be challenging.

Medical malpractice cases typically hinge on proving negligence or a breach of the standard of care.

Establishing that a healthcare provider engaged in gaslighting requires compelling evidence, such as documented instances of dismissive behavior or testimony from other medical professionals.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

To pursue legal action for medical gaslighting, plaintiffs must demonstrate four key elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Breach of duty refers to a healthcare provider’s failure to provide a standard of care consistent with their profession.

A breach occurs when this duty is violated, in this case through dismissive or negligent behavior.

Causation links the breach of duty to the patient’s harm, while damages quantify the losses suffered by the patient as a result.

Proving Medical Gaslighting

One of the primary hurdles in suing for medical gaslighting is the subjective nature of the claim.

Unlike tangible injuries or errors in diagnosis, gaslighting relies on the patient’s perception of their treatment, which can be challenging to quantify or substantiate.

Additionally, healthcare providers may refute allegations of gaslighting by citing clinical judgment or differences in interpretation. At Barrera Law Group LLC, we’ve found that proving medical gaslighting often depends on evidence such as medical records, witness testimony, and documented instances of dismissive behavior.

Psychology Today suggests keeping detailed documentation of your symptoms, including “how often, how intense, and how long you have had your symptoms” as well as “what you have tried for the symptoms and whether anything seems to help or make your symptoms worse.”

The author states, “It may be harder for a physician to dismiss symptoms with data on your side.”

The Role of Informed Consent

Informed consent plays a crucial role in the doctor-patient relationship and can serve as a defense against allegations of gaslighting. Patients have the right to be fully informed about their medical condition, treatment options, and potential risks.

Failure to obtain informed consent or adequately address patient concerns may constitute a breach of duty, further complicating the legal landscape surrounding medical gaslighting.

Seeking Alternative Remedies

While litigation may provide a sense of justice for patients who have experienced medical gaslighting, seeking alternative remedies can also be beneficial.

Three things you can do include:

  • Filing complaints with medical licensing boards
  • Seeking support from patient advocacy groups
  • Consulting with other healthcare professionals for a second opinion

Additionally, raising awareness about medical gaslighting can prompt systemic changes within the healthcare industry to prioritize patient-centered care.

Advocacy and Awareness

Addressing medical gaslighting requires a multi-faceted approach that involves advocacy, education, and policy reform. Healthcare providers must undergo training to recognize and address implicit biases that may contribute to dismissive behavior, especially towards certain patient populations.

Patients must be empowered to assert their rights and advocate for their healthcare needs, challenging the status quo of paternalistic medicine.

Medical gaslighting represents a significant challenge within the healthcare system, undermining trust and exacerbating disparities in patient care.

While pursuing legal action for gaslighting presents numerous challenges, it is not impossible.

By understanding the legal landscape surrounding medical malpractice and advocating for systemic change, patients and healthcare providers can work together to prevent and address instances of gaslighting, ultimately fostering a more equitable and patient-centered healthcare system.

At Barrera Law Group LLC, your rights to health and welfare are our highest priority. If you have any questions about the medical services you received, our attorneys are always ready to assist.