The Key to Avoiding Misdiagnosis
A 2015 report by The National Academy of Sciences, called Improving Diagnosis in Health Care, states that “most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.” According to a 2013 study that was published in the Journal of Patient Safety, 210,000 to 440,000 deaths per year are associated with medical errors in the U.S. each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States. While misdiagnosis is not the cause of all of these medical errors, it certainly is a leading cause.
Providers can misdiagnose patients due to a number of reasons that occur on their end of things. For example, they might be dealing with fragmented medical records that cause them to not see the full picture of the patient’s case, they may be overworked, they may simply interpret pathology reports incorrectly, and they may not be issuing enough personalized tests and procedures to clearly address the issue.
On the patient’s end of things, they may not be clearly communicating their symptoms or not be including all of their family health history. In addition, being obese can lead to issues of misdiagnosis as well as making certain tests like MRIs and CT scans inconclusive.
The Key to Avoiding Misdiagnosis
The key to avoiding misdiagnosis is for patients to become their own advocates when it comes to their health. It’s time for patients to take the reigns and be the leader of their health and wellness. This involves not only making healthy choices in their daily lives but also leading their healthcare provider(s) instead of letting their doctors lead them. Patients need to speak up and challenge their physicians, and with all of the information available to us all these days, patients need to also be well read and do their own research (as long as they are choosing reputable information).
There are three ways that patients can take the lead when it comes to their health: 1) Get organized, 2) Don’t be afraid to take charge of your health both inside and outside of the doctor’s office, and 3) have good communication with your healthcare provider(s).
11 Tips for Avoiding Misdiagnosis
Here are some tips as to how to work together with your doctor to take action, increase communication and organization and reduce the chances of misdiagnosis:
- Decide to Take the Lead – Don’t be a passenger in your healthcare. Just because you don’t have a fancy healthcare degree doesn’t mean you don’t know your body better than anyone else. Take charge of managing your health and don’t let your physician intimidate you. Play an active role in your healthcare decisions and always speak up with questions that challenge your doctor, while at the same time provide further understanding for you.
- Set Clear Expectations – When you expect one thing and your healthcare provider expects another, there is always opportunity for issues to come up. Be specific and clear about your expectations before hand so that everyone is on the same page. For example, when you call to make an appointment, mention the length of appointment you would like and explain exactly what you would like to accomplish.
- Be Prepared – Make a list of all of your questions, symptoms and the things you want to discuss with your doctor, and bring it with you to your appointment. Be sure to tell your story to the best of your ability by providing details such as when your symptoms started, what makes them better, what makes them worse, what times of day you experience them, etc.
- Challenge Your Diagnosis – If your doctor has already given you a diagnosis, be sure to challenge that diagnosis by asking the following questions:
- What makes you think that is the right diagnosis?
- Are there any reasons my case does not fit your diagnosis?
- What are some other reasons I might be having these symptoms?
- What are the treatments you are suggesting and what are the risks of those treatments?
- What is your success rate of these treatments for my diagnosis?
- What are my other options?
- What are the pros and cons of those other options?
- Take Notes – Don’t expect that you will remember what the doctor tells you. In most cases, you won’t. Take notes so that you have it all in front of you when you want to look at what was discussed.
- Stay on Top of Your Health Records and Bring Them With You – Don’t expect that your doctor has a copy of all of your test results and records or that he or she will even receive them if you ordered them from another provider. Always order a copy for yourself and bring them with you to your appointments. It’s also important to bring with you a list of all the medications and supplements you are currently taking and their dosages, as well as a list of your symptoms and questions.
- Don’t Go Alone – Two heads are always better than one. Bring a spouse, relative or friend with you to your appointment so that he or she can help you remember everything you wanted to cover and can ensure you understand what the doctor is relaying to you.
- Get Another Opinion – Not every doctor will make the same judgment call. That’s why it is always best to get 3 opinions/diagnoses. It can seem like a lot of work, but having the peace of mind that you are being diagnosed properly will make it all worth it.
- Get Clear on Your Next Steps – Make sure you and your physician are clear on what the next steps will be. Reiterate before leaving what you will be doing and what you expect your physician to be doing before your next appointment. Write down both sets of action steps.
- Follow Through – Take the steps you have mapped out, follow through, and keep notes for yourself as to how certain treatments have affected your symptoms. Further follow through by learning about the illness you have been diagnosed with as well as the tests and procedures you have gone through and the medications and treatments that have been assigned to you. The more you know, the more accurately you can determine if your diagnosis and treatments are correct.
- Share – Don’t hold back any of your health information from any of your healthcare providers. Consider them to be your healthcare team, or as we call it at CarpeVITA – your “Circle of Care” – and make sure they all get the same medical info, test results, medication records and diagnosis, and that they are talking to each other.