Medical misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose are considered medical malpractice. The statistics and common conditions missed by specialists are startling.
Did you know that an estimated 12 million Americans are victims of some form of medical misdiagnosis each year? Not only this, but a recent Mayo Clinic study suggests that more than 20% of patients suffering from serious illnesses were initially misdiagnosed.
Misdiagnosis is an increasingly common problem in the medical industry, and its consequences can be severe, ranging from delayed and improper treatment to severe injury and even death. Read on to learn more about medical misdiagnosis, how it occurs, and how it can be prevented!
What Is Medical Misdiagnosis?
At first blush, the term “medical misdiagnosis” might seem pretty self-explanatory. But it’s actually much more than just incorrectly identifying a patient’s illness, injury, or condition.
Medical misdiagnosis, in fact, refers to any error that results in an incorrect, missed, or delayed diagnosis of the patient’s condition. In other words, misdiagnosis is not just about the diagnosis you receive and treating you for Disease X when you really have Disease Y.
It’s also about a doctor or clinician telling you you’re perfectly healthy when, in fact, the clinical signs of your condition are there and yet not properly or promptly recognized by your care provider. It’s even about taking months to perform batteries of follow-up tests when there were adequate signs for a proper diagnosis from day one.
So, whether it’s a matter of improperly identifying a condition or of failing to recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition, medical misdiagnosis is a form of medical malpractice that can cost you or your loved one precious time in getting the treatment you need.
How Does It Happen?
Let’s face it: the doctor/patient relationship is among the most important relationships you will ever have. Your doctor is the person you share your most intimate secrets with, private matters that you may not even share with your closest loved ones.
Your doctor knows you, literally, inside and out. In many ways, he knows you better than you know yourself. From the first day of your relationship with your doctor to the last, you are quite literally agreeing to put your life into her hands.
But did you know that the average doctor’s appointment in the United States lasts just twenty minutes? Or that patients generally get a mere 18 seconds on average to talk before their doctor interrupts them?
It’s little wonder, then, that misdiagnoses happen so often. In an increasingly burdened healthcare system, with high patient volumes and fewer and fewer clinicians to care for them, doctors all too often find themselves overworked and lacking for time.
The simple fact is that when a doctor encounters scores of patients each day recounting the same sets of symptoms, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions. It can be easy to listen to the patient, but without actually hearing her.
And the consequences can be devastating, ranging from the simple progression of the disorder to injuries borne of improper treatment. It can cost the patient and the medical system thousands or even millions of dollars for treatments that could have been avoided. It can rob patients not only of their quality of life but also their peace of mind. It can take their function and it can take their life.
What Can Be Done?
In an already overtaxed healthcare system, where patients may too readily feel more like a number on an assembly line than a human being in search of compassionate care, it’s hard to know what to do to avoid misdiagnosis.
However, there are a few steps you can take to decreases the chances of it happening to you or your loved one.
- Be Thorough and Clear
One of the most common causes of misdiagnosis is insufficient patient information. So make sure that you are communicating clearly and thoroughly with your doctor. Make notes and take a loved one with you to help ensure that you don’t miss any important details when communicating with your doctor.
- Don’t Just List Your Symptoms: Tell the Story
Doctors are used to hearing the same list of symptoms repeated to them day in and day out. This can lead to a diagnostic error in which the doctor prematurely settles on a familiar and expected disorder while unconsciously ignoring signs that point away from that expected diagnosis.
However, when you tell the story of your symptoms, rather than just listing them, you’re helping your doctor focus on and better remember. Best of all, you’re providing the context that just might hold that vital clue needed to make the proper diagnosis.
- It’s Your Time. Take It.
Remember what we said about the average doctor’s appointment lasting just 20 minutes? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. You are paying for that time with your doctor. You deserve her attention, even if that means you have to demand it.
After all, it is your right and it is your health. Nothing is more important. Your doctor should be more than willing to sit with you, hear what you have to say, and answer your questions and concerns. If he isn’t, then it’s time to start looking for a new one.
- Get a Second Opinion
Yes, your doctor may have the training, but you have the experience. You’ve lived in your body your whole life. No one knows it better than you do. And when a diagnosis (or a failure to diagnose) just doesn’t feel right, pay attention. Listen to your intuition.
That gut instinct is an evolutionary tool meant to ensure our survival. It’s maybe the strongest ally we have in determining what is right and wrong for us. So when your gut is telling you something is not right about your diagnosis or treatment plan, take action. Get a second opinion. Or a third or a fourth if need be. It may well save your life.
Medical misdiagnosis is all too common in the American healthcare system, but that doesn’t mean you or your loved ones have to experience it. With the right strategies and a bit of support, you can protect yourself and those you love from becoming another statistic.
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