2023 CHAS: Dismissive Treatment

Many people are having their medical concerns dismissed by health care providers.

April 11, 2024

Nearly one in six Colorado adults (14.6%, about 514,000 people) who sought health services in the past year experienced dismissive health care, according to the 2023 CHAS. 

The causes of dismissive care varied, from a lack of clarity in diagnosis and treatment plans to underlying issues of belief and trust with health care providers.

For the first time, the 2023 CHAS asked respondents about whether they felt their medical providers dismissed their health concerns. The findings provide a critical window into an important health care issue and reveal opportunities for improvement.  

The CHAS asked people, “In the past 12 months, have any of your health care providers ignored, dismissed, or failed to address your medical concerns?" If they answered yes, the survey asked them to specify the reasons they felt dismissed. 

About three-quarters of people (73.8%) who felt they received dismissive treatment said the medical provider ignored their symptoms or concerns. More than three in five said the medical provider did not believe them or take them seriously (61.9%) and/or didn’t provide them with a treatment plan (62.2%). Nearly half were told they were fine (46.7%) or the provider didn’t know what was wrong (47.4%). Others were told their health issues were caused by their age, their mental health, or their weight.

A demographic analysis highlights the significant disparities in treatment among age, gender, sexual identity, and ability. The numbers hardly varied by race or ethnic group, except that Black or African American adults reported less dismissive treatment than other races and ethnicities.

Age. Adults age 26 to 34 were more likely to report that their health care providers ignored, dismissed, or failed to address their medical concerns compared with other age groups. This suggests younger adults may face unique challenges or barriers when seeking medical care. Younger adults also may be more likely to report their dismissive treatment compared with older adults. Younger adults were also more likely to report disrespectful treatment on a different CHAS question.

Gender. Women were much more likely than men to report dismissive treatment by their health care provider, with 16.7% of women reporting such experiences compared with 10.4% of men. Additionally, 14.2% of people identifying with another gender reported dismissive treatment. 

Ability. People who reported having difficulty performing daily activities due to a physical, mental, or emotional condition were much more likely to report experiencing dismissive treatment, with 29.7% indicating that their health care providers ignored, dismissed, or failed to address their concerns. In contrast, only 11.5% of those without such difficulties reported similar experiences. 

Mental health. People reporting poor mental health, defined as experiencing eight or more days of poor mental health in the past 30 days, were substantially more likely to report dismissive medical care. Specifically, 26.2% of those with poor mental health reported that their health care providers ignored, dismissed, or failed to address their concerns. In contrast, only about 11.2% of people with good mental health reported similar experiences.

LGBTQ+. People who identified as LGBTQ+ were more likely to have their concerns dismissed by health care providers compared with heterosexual and cisgender people. A quarter (25.9%) of LGBTQ+ respondents indicated that their health care providers ignored, dismissed, or failed to adequately address their medical concerns. In comparison, only (14.0%) of heterosexual and cisgender respondents reported similar experiences.

The takeaway. The CHAS shows that dismissive care follows familiar patterns of discrimination — which also showed up on a related CHAS question about disrespect in health care. Younger adults, women, people identifying as LGBTQ+, those with poor mental health, and people with disabilities reported higher more experiences of dismissive health care. These groups have historically encountered challenges in finding clarity and trust within the health care system. The repercussions of dismissive health care can range from frustration to life-threatening delays in care. But notably, more people are speaking out about these experiences, especially younger adults, underscoring the urgent need for enhanced awareness and improved practices in health care settings.