Women's experiences of medical miss-diagnosis : how does gender matter? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Misdiagnosis is increasingly becoming a significant health risk. Women experience higher rates of misdiagnosed illnesses and health conditions compared to men. An androcentric, patriarchal medical system has historically under-researched female bodies and therefore has limited knowledge about recognising symptoms in women. This also extends to tests and treatments that have been developed on male bodies, making them inefficient and inappropriate for female bodies. Additionally, women have historically been positioned as ‘emotional’, ‘weak’, ‘hysterical’ and ‘hypochondrial’, meaning they are not taken seriously as legitimate patients and are considered unreliable symptom reporters. Collectively, the lack of knowledge, and negative prejudices against women, produce healthcare that ignores and silences them, and fails to diagnose and treat them appropriately. This thesis engages a qualitative feminist standpoint, using a narrative framework to explore women’s experiences of misdiagnosis and how they make sense of it. The research draws on semi-structured interviews conducted with eight women aged between 26 and 57 years old, who had experienced a misdiagnosis of an illness that is equally likely to affect women and men. A descriptive inductive analysis approach was used to look for similar experiences in the narratives to inform categories and themes. This research found that a misdiagnosis is highly distressing and often leads to disparate health outcomes. The women described doctors lacking knowledge to make a correct diagnosis, or knowledge to treat their conditions. They needed to advocate for themselves when symptoms continued or worsened. The women experienced rude and sceptic treatment, adding to the burden of being unwell. It is recommended that future research continue to privilege women’s voices in healthcare settings, and explore the misdiagnosis experience from the perspective of healthcare professionals to enable more transparent and collaborative healthcare for women.
Women, Health and hygiene, New Zealand, Women patients, Attitudes, Diagnostic errors, Psychological aspects, Sociological aspects, Feminist theory