What can cause an incorrect diagnosis?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Knitting symptoms into a correct diagnosis can be complex. It is part art and part science. Mostly, doctors get it right, but sometimes they are way off course. A combination of factors - a mistake in the medical system or a flaw in reasoning - can cause a doctor to prematurely commit to a diagnosis or pick the wrong one entirely. And that can have serious consequences.
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The first thing a doctor must discover when treating a patient is whether a condition is physiologic or pathologic. What this means is that the doctor must determine if the condition is normal or associated with disease. When a doctor examines a patient, what he or she is trying to discover is the correct diagnosis. The correct diagnosis is called the definitive diagnosis, which is garnered from a list of potential diagnoses called the differential diagnosis (the differential). The process of narrowing down the differential diagnosis involves a series of steps that often leads to the correct diagnosis. Those steps are represented by the mnemonic HIPPAA, which stands for history, inspection, percussion, palpation, auscultation, and additional tests.

An incorrect diagnosis can occur if there is a misinterpretation of some of the HIPPAA findings, or some of those steps are skipped. That is why a second opinion is a good idea if your condition does not improve with the diagnosis and treatment recommended by your doctor. See also:

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.