On misdiagnosis: What happens when your doctor gets it wrong?

An estimated 12 million people are misdiagnosed by doctors with a condition they don’t have. In approximately half of those cases, the misdiagnosis is possible to result in severe harm.

A misdiagnosis can have profound consequences on your health. It can delay recovery and often call for treatment that is harmful.  For nearly 40,500 patients who enter an intensive care unit in one year, misdiagnoses can cost them their lives.

But why are so many diseases missed?

In part, it’s the result of a sheer number of conditions – approximately 7,000 to 9,000 in total – as well as almost 500 treatments with varying degrees of effectiveness. The amount of need for innovation, especially for rare diseases, is a particular challenge. The thing is that for some diseases, it could take seven years from the point of asking for medical intervention to the point of diagnosis.

As a patient, there are ways you can help close that gap. Read on to see steps you can take to be proactive in your diagnosis, particularly if you’re still searching for one:

Establish a relationship with a primary care physician

Every team has a quarterback- if you’re the owner of a team, which you are as the patient, you will need someone (who) manages all of the players and knows you.

Here we are stressing the importance of seeing your primary care medical personnel for wellness visits and annual check-ups, not just when you’re sick. In doing so, you will already have a starting point when a health issue arises.

Come prepared

Typically, most medical professionals spend 17 to 24 minutes with their patients each visit, according to a 2018 report. You can get the most of that time by filling new patients forms at home, asking your family if they’ve marked changes and keeping an updated family health record.

The more prepared you are, the more productive and effective the discussion will be with your doctor.

Be Informed & choose your sources wisely 

It might sound counterintuitive, but if you do your own resource, consider the source. To make sure you get all the ins and outs, you should try to leverage information from credible non-profits for specific diseases, medical centres and medical research centres, like the National Institutes of Health.

We wouldn’t assume that you are finding the answer, but we believe that you are finding the information that can hopefully lead to an answer.

Bring an advocate with you 

We know that sometimes visiting your doctor can be quite disempowering. To avoid this feeling, you can bring someone to take note and ask questions. For instance, when someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, you can accompany that person to find out the results. Beyond being a support system, friends or family, you can navigate the healthcare system when you might not feel well enough to do so yourself.

In case of a misdiagnosis, it generally means you will experience a delay in receiving the right treatment.

What to do if you think you have been misdiagnosed:

  1. Trust your gut: nobody knows your body better than you. If you don’t believe that your doctor has completely taken your symptoms into account, or the recommended therapy isn’t working, go back for further consultation to raise these concerns; or
  2. Consider a second opinion
  3. Don’t take no for an answer.

If your condition can’t be treated and you’re already too late for a second opinion, you have a number of legal services open to you:

  • You can fill a complaint to your state’s Health Ombudsman or how-to-sue.co.uk; or
  • You can discuss with a specialist attorney about your options. While compensation cannot restore your health, it can provide you with services and funding, which means you can lead to a better quality of life with as much independent living, as necessary as possible.

If you have lost a dear one due to misdiagnosis, you can file a claim for the left behind dependants.  

Focus on symptoms, not self-diagnosis 

When it comes to genuine medical issues, Dr Google isn’t always right. So instead of jumping right into Google’s conclusion, we suggest coming with a complete description of your symptoms, along with photos taken at the peak of those symptoms.

From this point of view, you are the one with the story, and your physician is the partner that’s listening to the story. If you fail to tell your story accordingly, they may miss it on bloodwork, they may miss it on the physical exam, or they may go down the wrong route.  

Don’t leave anything out

In some instances, people often overlook or omit important details that they didn’t realize they were connected to their problem. One of the reasons is that patients often feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive subjects, such as mental health, substance abuse or sexual activity. What you can do is to make sure your medical advisor is aware of everything, even if you feel awkward about sharing. After all, they’re doctors, and they’ve seen it all. You won’t be judged for your condition. And even if you are judged, you can always find a new doctor.

Always ask questions

A report shows us that 66o primary care physicians said it’s “very” or “somewhat” helpful for patients to ask them questions – and occasionally question their recommendations – and sometimes question their recommendations. However, that’s all in your approach.  

You may consider the “Ask me three strategy” -which encourage you and those around you to ask three questions of medical professionals:

  1. What is the main problem?
  2. What should I do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

These three questions can get you focused on the real problem and allow for a real conversation.

If you’re seeking out other opinions, don’t forget to bring your past medical records with you, which may prevent physicians from repeating the same tests twice.

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