What to do when your doctor downplays your symptoms

A new client recently called our office about poor health care he received at a primary care clinic in San Antonio.

The man went to see his primary care provider because of ear pain that radiated down into his jaw. Strangely, the physician did not examine or look into the patient’s ear but instead quickly concluded that he had arthritis.

Over the course of the next two months, the pain did not resolve so he returned to the primary care clinic on two more occasions. Once again, the doctor discounted his complaints of radiating ear pain, did not look into his ear, and told him that the pain was arthritis-related.

As you may be aware, getting appointments to specialized physicians can sometimes take a while. Fortunately, he was able to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, who confirmed a severe ear infection and drained his ear.

By then, though, the infection was so severe that it had eaten through a bone behind his ear. The ENT physician admitted him to a San Antonio area hospital to remove the damaged bone. The recovery required a two-week hospital admission, during which he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s Palsy is a one-sided paralysis of the face that can be caused by swelling of the facial nerve.

After discharge, the patient continues to suffer from ear pain and not knowing whether his Bell’s Palsy paralysis will be permanent.

What you can do

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have represented many clients whose doctors and nurses have downplayed, minimized, or ignored their signs, symptoms, and complaints. I believe that, most of the time, there are two reasons for this. First, most doctors and nurses are busy and constantly in a hurry. Second, some doctors take shortcuts and settle on the most common diagnosis, rather than conducting a full assessment and ruling out all potential causes of an illness or condition.

You can help improve your own safety as a patient by being actively engaged with your healthcare provider. Start by thoroughly explaining what you are experience or feeling that caused you to make the appointment in the first place. If the healthcare provider seems rushed or only halfway listening, do not be afraid to ask questions, request a more thorough physical assessment, and inquire about what additional testing could be done. For example, it would be appropriate to ask the doctor to look in your ear if you are having an earache.

If you feel uncertain about a diagnosis or treatment plan, discuss with the healthcare provider how your condition should change over the next days and weeks. In other words, ask what you should be looking for to understand whether your condition is improving or deteriorating.

Finally, consider getting a second opinion. If your health insurer requires it, ask your primary physician to make a referral to a specialist during your first visit, just in case it is needed.

We are here to help

The attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are experienced in handling medical malpractice and wrongful death cases involving all types of healthcare. For a free consultation about your potential case, call us at 281-580-8800.


Robert Painter is a former hospital administrator who is trial lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He exclusively represents patients and family members in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other healthcare providers. He frequently speaks and writes on topics related to healthcare and medical negligence, served as an editor-in-chief of The Houston Lawyer magazine, and is currently on the editorial board of the Texas Bar Journal.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.