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Victoria* was a teenager when a car struck and almost killed her. A major surgery requiring plastic mesh sewn into her belly saved her life. Soon after, her skin erupted in painful rashes that refused to heal.

She consulted specialists all over the country, but they couldn’t help her.  They told her they didn’t know the cause of her rashes, but there was no evidence for rashes related to implants. At one point they even told her she was delusional, despite her diffuse ulcerating lesions. After a decade of searching, Victoria found a physician who’d seen patients with unusual symptoms under similar circumstances. After he removed the plastic implant, her skin cleared up completely.

As Victoria spoke, my heart broke as it does every time I hear stories of patient neglect. The week before, a young man named Jack* told a similar story: an accident, then an illness followed by years of debilitating symptoms that forced him to travel the country consulting specialists looking for an answer that never came—until he found a doctor who listened and she began to work with him to find a way to heal.

These stories will come as no surprise to anyone with a chronic illness. All too often, we conventional physicians dismiss patients with unusual complaints or simply ply them with medicines. Of course, the medical community can’t develop a new “evidence base” if we ignore our patients. It’s an insane medical Catch-22, and patients are getting fed up. Now, instead of turning to the once trusted physician, many Americans are spending billions on alternative and complementary medicine.

Is the medicine we practice simply no good, or are the doctors to blame? The answer might be both.

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