<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Avoid Confusion About Your Health, Focus on Getting The Right Diagnosis
 
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Identifying the problem is the process of diagnosis. Often modern medicine makes this easy. But, published estimates of misdiagnosis range around 30%. The key is to lower the error rate by learning about your diagnosis, discussing it with your physicians, and monitoring your treatment.

There are many reasons your diagnosis can be off. Different disease processes can have similar signs and symptoms, and early on even lab tests and imaging studies may not reveal the correct problem. The wrong diagnosis can not only lead to the wrong treatment, but to more side effects from the one that is given, and to lost time. Furthermore, if the diagnosis is wrong, healthcare costs can go way up, and there is a higher risk of malpractice as well.

You can help your medical team make the right diagnosis. Be very involved. At a minimum look up your disease. Read not one article, but a few to get different points of view to see the full picture. It's true that you have a big disadvantage because you are not trained in this area. But remember you are the captain, the CEO. You don't have to be trained in every detail to manage it, to be sure it is on the right course.

One key test: are you improving? If so, it is hard to argue with success. But remember that short term improvement can be just a normal fluctuation in the disease intensity. Be sure to look for long term improvement before you are convinced that the diagnosis is really on target.

If you are not improving, don't just accept the diagnosis. This is an alarm bell to focus on the problem. Ask more questions. Look to see if tests need to be repeated, or additional confirmatory tests done. Get a further opinion to clarify the process.

If you are not resolving your illness, be sure to use other opinions to reach an understanding of it. We call this reaching the deciding opinion. The purpose is not to see the second or the fourth doctor, but to reach the point where you understand as well as possible your diagnosis and treatment, and how it will affect your life.

You need to be sure you are either getting the correct diagnosis, or that in fact nothing more can be done. Some of this process is discussed in the consultation section, but before that stage, there are important steps for a power patient to take. First, consider that you set up vital parts of the diagnostic process with the history you gave. Much of what you feel and experience will not show up on any scanner or blood test. So be careful, complete, and concise to ensure that it is understood. If you leave things out, they won’t be known. If you generalize your symptoms so that everything hurts, or little components are magnified to equal big ones, you will just confuse the physician. If you are too lengthy and scattered in your description, your physician may lose focus on the underlying diagnostic pattern.

The next step is to learn from any available source. Of course the internet is very helpful, but it can give confusing information as well. Too complement this, look for friends and acquaintances who know the area. They may be physicians, nurses, physicians assistants or other paraprofessionals. They can give you a perspective on real practice, and on how to organize what you learn. and how to ask questions of your doctors.

Be alert to local differences in practices. Sometimes, a university or regional center will give a broader point of view that moves the process in a good direction. Again, you are trying to reach not just agreement of physicians, but some understanding of your own of the diagnosis and its implications for you. Don't be passive; you have too much as stake.\

© PowerPatient, FIND, 2003, 2004