What can I do to prevent a misdiagnosis?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
To help prevent a misstep in your medical diagnosis you need to be an active and persistent participant in your care. Follow this advice the next time you are heading to the doctor.
  • Do your homework. Although there is a risk you may get more confused if you do too much research before you see your doctor, reading about your symptoms beforehand may trigger something you shrugged off as unimportant.
  • Organize your thoughts. Do this before you go to the doctor so you don't leave anything out when you are face-to-face. Take notes and bring them with you.
  • Report all your symptoms. Symptoms can help clarify or rule out a diagnosis, so include everything even if you think it is unrelated.
  • Describe your symptoms in detail. This is the what, where, when, how often deal. Your doctor will want to know when symptoms occur, when they go away, what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse. If you have pain, use the right word to describe it. Is it stabbing, dull, or does it only occur when you do certain things.
  • Be honest. This is not the time to leave anything out so if you have undesirable lifestyle habits you need to fess up. It can offer important clues to your condition.
  • Go with your gut. If you are feeling like your complaints are being dismissed or ignored or not interpreted properly go to another doctor. Simple as that.
  • Get a second opinion. Doctors actually don't mind when you do this. In fact, they expect it.
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Be sure to recognize that diagnosis is not always easy and misdiagnosis can occur. As an involved patient you can bring your experience to each visit with your doctor. Being open about that experience is very helpful when you talk with your doctor about a medical problem that hasn’t been fixed. You can use your unique experience with your condition to ask good questions -- especially when symptoms don’t go away after you have been treated. Dr. Jerome Groopman, author of “How Doctor’s Think,” suggests that you ask the following questions if this happens to you. They may be useful to help your doctor think about additional problems that may be affecting your health. They are:
  • What else could it be?
  • Is there anything that doesn’t fit?
  • Is it possible I have more than one problem?
Keep in mind that sometimes treatments just don’t work and other cures need to be explored. Think of how long it can take to have a mechanic find the problem in your car. Keeping the conversation with your physician open and honest is important. It’s also important to, if you decide to go to another physician after a second opinion is provided to tell your doctor what happened. If the first physician made a mistake you should let them know. This way they can learn from that experience and improve their diagnostic skills. Sharing this information with them in a positive way can help to minimize the chance the doctor could make the same mistake again.

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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.