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Misdiagnosis: When Your Doctor Doesn’t Know

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It’s estimated that 25 million Americans suffer from rare illnesses, many of which go undiagnosed or even worse get misdiagnosed and that person could go years before the correct diagnosis. This is according to statistics compiled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Another study done by the Mayo Clinic found that the true cause of illness had been either missed or weren’t treated correctly in roughly 20 percent of patients who had autopsies performed after passing away in the intensive care unit.

Every year there’s $2.5 billion in legal payouts get made. After an analysis of diagnostic errors nearly 10 percent of all deaths at hospitals involved a major error.

There’s no simple solution as there are many illnesses that have similar symptoms. Physicians may at times lack the time or ability to make sure it’s the correct way to treat. So, if a patient has a rare disorder there out of luck or will get the wrong treatment from the doctor.

What it comes down to are three primary reasons for the failures: Mistakes in the doctors thinking, an over reliance on specialists and medical testing, and the human body itself, which can experience a multitude of ailments and yet has limited ways to communicate those ailments.

Due to the ever rising cost of a doctors visit, physicians spend less time with each patient than before. With the lack of a relationship it means relying on the medical tests to give the answers. When those tests are inconclusive or inaccurate, it means going down the wrong treatment path.

Doctors will see the test results and often time are unwilling to verify if it’s actually correct. This is why it’s imperative to get a second opinion.

WebMD has provided eight tips to make sure that the right diagnosis gets made.

1. Plan for Your Appointment With Specialists

Get a list together of what’s been done so far – any tests you’ve taken, X-rays, MRIs, blood work, etc, and get copies of them. By law you’re entitled to your medical records. To do that, call any health care provider you’ve already seen and ask for an authorization for the release of information form. Laws differ from state to state, but most facilities allow a reasonable fee for copying and sending records.

2. Write Down Each Symptom

Sit down at least once, preferably two or three times before your appointment, and write down what you want to talk to the doctor about. And bring a pen and paper to the appointment. If you hear something disturbing, like, “It’s possible it might be a tumor,” you probably won’t remember anything your doctor said, other than “tumor,” so write as much down as you can.

If your doctor uses electronic medical records, you can even ask for a copy of his notes on your way out of the office.

3. Know Your Medical History

Go through your family tree and look at what diseases and conditions run through it. If you don’t know, ask your relatives. Conditions like cancer, heart disease, even depression and anxiety have a genetic component.

4. Bring in Your Medications

You want to make sure you’re taking the correct medicine at the correct dose.

5. Describe Your Symptoms, but Don’t Conclude

If you have ear pain and tell your doctor, ‘I have an ear infection,’ you’re excluding other causes of ear pain, such as TMJ or tooth abscess, and your doctor may do that as well,” she says. Better to keep a wider path and let the doctor entertain all the possibilities. Accurate but incomplete information is better than definitive but potentially wrong.

6. Be Specific About Your Symptoms

Try to get as precise as you can about what you’re feeling. If you’ve got a pain, is it a shooting, sharp pain or a dull ache? Does it come and go after eating? How long does it last? A few seconds? A few minutes? How long have you had it? A week? A month? A year? Does anything decrease the pain?

Also, turn subjective data into objective. If you feel feverish, for example, take your temperature for a week nightly and write down all the information.

This way when you see your doctor you can say, “I’ve had six headaches in one month, they weren’t relieved by Tylenol, they lasted four hours, and I had nausea with them.” Then give your doctor time to ask questions.

7. Ask Your Doctor What to Expect

If your doctor does make a diagnosis, ask what you should expect and any red flags you should be looking for. In other words, if you have a viral respiratory infection you should be better in seven days. If you suddenly develop a high fever or feel neck pain, that’s a tip-off that something isn’t right.

8. Question, Question, Question

Don’t be afraid to ask the doctor what he needs to make the diagnosis. Ask point-blank: What data do you need to get to the bottom of this? What’s your differential diagnosis? (the list of diagnoses it could be) Are there other specialists, procedures, or tests that would help you make the diagnosis? When do you want me to make the next appointment and what information can I bring to help make the diagnosis? Is there a specialist I should see?

Once you have a diagnosis, don’t be afraid to second guess your doctor. Are you sure this is what I have? What makes you think that?

And don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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