It's horrifying to think that a doctor or medical professional you trust may misdiagnose your medical condition. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is a common occurrence United States hospitals and medical facilities. In fact, according to a 2017 article in the Washington Post, 20% of patients diagnosed with a serious health condition who sought a second opinion found they had received a misdiagnosis from their first doctor. Health professionals obviously don't aim to misdiagnose patients. There are times when their error is understandable and doesn't cause harm. But, there are also occasions when a misdiagnosis reflects an inexcusable lapse in judgment or procedure on the part of the health care worker. These mistakes can result in catastrophic injuries and even patient deaths. In this blog post, we discuss steps patients and their families can take to reduce their risk of misdiagnosis:
Three Common Factors Leading to Misdiagnosis
Medical professionals misdiagnose patients due to a variety of factors. Here are several of the more common culprits of misdiagnosis:
- Information failures. We've all been to a doctor's appointment in which we've talked to several people before ever speaking with a doctor. One person checks us in, another takes our vital signs, a third asks about our health history, and so on. Each of these workers should keep a record of what you tell them in a format and with a level of precision that ensures the doctor who diagnoses you has full, accurate, and pertinent information. Unfortunately, each of those people also represents a point of potential weakness in the transmission of information from you to your doctor. If one of them fails to be thorough or accurate, the doctor may lack the necessary information to get your diagnosis right.
- Procedural and testing errors. In medicine, there is lots of opportunity for someone to make a technical mistake that could have a significant influence on your diagnosis. Errors in the methods used to draw blood, or in the calibration of radiology equipment, or the analysis of a urine sample, to name just a few, can cause a doctor to make a diagnosis based on false or misleading information.
- Stress, fatigue, and job pressures. The economics of running a successful medical practice can force doctors to operate as a high volume business. Doctors often have only a few minutes to spend with each patient. Their days can run long and be tiring. When doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are in a hurry and operate on too-little sleep, they inevitably make mistakes interpreting the information in front of them, even if that information is correct.
Tips for Minimizing Your Misdiagnosis Risk
The factors above are mostly out of your control as a patient, but that doesn't mean you can't protect yourself against them. Below, we outline some habits you can adopt as a patient to give yourself the best chance of receiving an accurate medical diagnosis, every time.
Document Your Symptoms
The information your doctors have about your condition the very first time you see them is, largely, only as good as the information you provide. Obviously, as time passes, they may develop their own information through testing and monitoring. But, at your first appointment, help your medical team, and yourself, by writing down your symptoms ahead of time. This will give you a chance to reflect on what you've been feeling without the pressure of being put on the spot. It will also reduce the chance that you forget to tell the doctors something that seems important to you.
Bring an Advocate
Many people who seek medical care understandably feel emotional about receiving a diagnosis. When emotions run high, patients can misunderstand what their doctors tell them, and also can feel as if their doctors misunderstand what they are saying. To combat the difficulty of emotions getting in the way of a clear and accurate communication between you and your doctor, bring an advocate (a friend, a family member, etc.) with you to any appointment where a diagnosis may be discussed. Your advocate serves as an important extra pair of eyes and ears who can clear up misunderstandings before they influence your care.
Take Notes & Ask Questions
When a doctor begins to tell you details about a condition or diagnosis, write everything down. If there's anything you don't understand or want to know more about, pipe up and ask. If you have an advocate with you, give them that job. Writing down what a doctor tells you, supplemented by your own questions, serves at least two important purposes. It reminds the doctor to be precise. And, it creates a record for you to look back at, later, should you want to recall what the doctor told you. This can be especially important in helping to formulate follow up questions, and in following the doctor's advice for follow-up care and self-monitoring.
Seek Second Opinions
This piece of advice applies especially when it comes to diagnoses of serious illnesses and conditions. We have a tendency, as patients, to want to believe what doctors tell us. We want to trust them, and often we should. But, remember, doctors are also human beings and it's your life that's on the line. Doctors have to make difficult judgment calls about what the evidence tells them. Even when their information is accurate, and even when they are fresh and well-rested, they can still make mistakes or misjudgments. That is why, when you receive a diagnosis of a serious health condition, you should always seek a second opinion, preferably from a doctor who specializes in the condition. By asking two doctors to analyze the information in front of them, you increase your chances not just of them getting your diagnosis right, but also of spotting errors or areas for improving your care and treatment.
Pittsburgh Medical Misdiagnosis Attorney
Even if you take the precautions above, you cannot eliminate the risk of a misdiagnosis entirely. If you or a family member have fallen victim to the misdiagnosis of a medical condition by a health care professional in the Pittsburgh area, you may be entitled to significant compensation. To learn more, contact the compassionate, experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Harry Cohen & Associates today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.