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Physicians' gender bias in the diagnostic assessment of medically unexplained symptoms and its effect on patient-physician relations

Journal article
Authors B. Clareus
Emma Aurora Renström
Published in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology
Volume 60
Issue 4
Pages 338-347
ISSN 0036-5564
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 338-347
Language en
Keywords Functional disorder, gender bias, MUS, primary care, relational conduct, somatoform disorder, functional somatic symptoms, low-back-pain, health-care, somatoform, disorders, prevalence, management, satisfaction, people, work, classification, Psychology, it rc, 1990, pain, v40, p171
Subject categories Psychology


Nonspecific, functional, and somatoform (NFS) syndromes is an umbrella term for various diagnoses with medically unexplained symptoms. These syndromes are more prevalent among women than among men, and associated with negative preconceptions that can impede rehabilitation. In two studies, we quantitatively assess how patients' gender affects the diagnostic assessment of NFS syndromes, as well as the healthcare experiences of individuals diagnosed with NFS syndromes. In the first study, our vignette-based experiment showed that Swedish general practitioners (N = 90) were gender biased in their diagnostic assessment of NFS syndromes, such that a female patient with back pain was more likely to be assigned a NFS syndrome compared to an otherwise identical male patient. In the second study, a large community sample of Swedish individuals with medically explained (n = 432) and unexplained pain (n = 521) evaluated their treating physician's relational conduct. Even after accounting for a variety of sociodemographic variables and other pain characteristics, women with at least one NFS syndrome percieved their physician's relational conduct as significantly poorer than other women as well as men with and without NFS syndromes. When women's pain is more likely than men's to be assessed as NFS, their rehabilitation could be prolonged as pertient alternative diagnoses and treatments are omittied and their negative healthcare experiences lower their volition to partake and persevere in treatment.

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