How To Avoid Being Misdiagnosed

The goal of your health care team is to “do no harm .” That means that each member of your team is committed to your safety and security. With that being said, mistakes do happen… in diagnosis and in treatment.

Understand how your diagnosis is made:

It is extremely important to understand how your doctor makes your diagnosis. What signs and symptoms are you exhibiting that lead your doctor to that diagnosis? What tests are being performed that help your doctor come up with your diagnosis? How are the results being used in the determination of that diagnosis? If the diagnosis turns out to be different than the doctor suspected, what else can be causing your symptoms? What other tests are needed?

Listen to your gut instinct:

After all is said and done and your doctor comes up with a diagnosis, you may not agree with it. You may feel that the doctor has missed something, has not listened to all you had to say, may not be willing to order anymore tests. Go with your gut instinct. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t. While doctors do have your best interests at heart, mistakes do happen. You never want to hear your doctor say ” if only I had seen you earlier or If only we had run a specific blood test or performed a specific diagnostic MRI “.

Be assertive when your gut instinct doesn’t agree with the doctor’s diagnosis. You have a voice … use it! Ask the doctor what else your symptoms could be. Ask what other diagnostic tests could be done to help confirm or rule out the diagnosis. If your doctor refuses to perform other tests, ask to speak with his or her superior. In cases where there is no superior to your private doctor, ask to speak with the Head of the Surgical, Medical, Maternity, Orthopedic, etc department. You can also get the hospital clergy involved… regardless of your faith. They are always willing to help intervene on a patient’s behalf. Many hospitals have Patient Advocacy departments that you can call on. When push comes to shove, you can always ask for a 2nd opinion and ultimately, you can always switch doctors.

Every time a clinician orders a diagnostic test, three questions need to be answered to avoid a missed diagnosis. The questions are: (1) Was the test actually done? (2) Were the results abnormal? If so, (3) was follow-up performed so that a diagnosis was made or ruled out?

Terminology:

Diagnosis: The nature of a disease; the identification of an illness.

MRI: Magnetic Resonant Imaging; a diagnostic test performed to detect disease; Uses body’s magnetic fields for such imaging.

Sign: Objective manifestation of disease that can be identified by the examiner (such as fever, diarrhea, bleeding, vomiting, skin rash, high blood pressure)

Symptom: Subjective manifestation of disease that can only be identified by the patient (such as pain, nausea, itching, heartburn)

Anecdote:

During a family game of baseball, my 8 year old daughter got hit in the head with a hard ball. We administered the typical first aid of ice and rest. She seemed to be fine. That evening, she woke up crying and holding her head complaining of a severe headache. We rushed her to the Emergency Room of our local hospital. The Emergency Room doctor diagnosed her with the flu and told us to take her home and let the virus run its course. Our instinct told us that he was wrong. We told him that we were not comfortable with that diagnosis in light of her having been hit in the head with a fast moving hard ball just hours before. We insisted that he order an MRI. The MRI showed bleeding into her brain. Had we not followed our gut, our daughter probably would have never woken up the next morning. We had a voice… we used it to save our daughter’s life.

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