1 in 20 Misdiagnosed by Doctors: 10 things you can do about it
A new study out this week says that 1 in 20 adults will be misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the US. Thats roughly 12 million people each year, if that statistic isn’t frightening enough about half of those “have the potential to lead to serious harm.”
First, let’s talk about the study itself. The data was hard to collect, this was because the definition of an error differ between hospitals and the fact the data had to be collected from different medical care providers.
Led by Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovations in Quality, the team looked at three different studies that included hundreds of medical records of patients who visited outpatient clinics. Then they defined what was considered a diagnostic error [or misdiagnosis] as “missed opportunities to make a timely or correct diagnosis based on available evidence.”
Their findings, which have been published in BMJ Quality and Safety, showed that the annual rate of outpatient diagnostic errors [misdiagnosis] stands at 5.08%. Which is where the 1 in 20 adults came from.
So with all that, what can you do to protect yourself?
1. Time is money, use it wisely.
Your Doctor, like it or not is on a time crunch, actually it was one of the reasons Dr. Singh listed as a cause of the misdiagnosis problems. Doctors can feel rushed to move on to the next patient, going in with a clear list of symptoms [written down] will make the best use of his time and insure that you didn’t forget anything important to tell him.
2. What test was that…?
With the increasing amount of tests that Doctors have access to, it is all too common for them not to know which ones are at their disposal and which ones will benefit you. Accurately interpreting the results is another issue, so make sure you know what tests are being run and don’t be afraid to get a copy for your own personal records.
3. I was diagnosed with… well it starts with an A.
Keep track of your medical history, just because that rash is new doesn’t mean the cause of it isn’t something old. Making sure you have accurate medical history and treatment records, especially when a diagnosis is chronic, is important. Not all Doctors talk to each other and not all of them will have the same records, you can take away that worry by having your own set whenever you visit.
4. Am I on TV?
Does your Doctor sound less like a person and more like a TV ad? Chances are if he is telling you that ambien is the number one sleep aide prescribed by doctors after every question [yes, this happened to me], then you should get a second opinion on what they are offering you.
5. Speaking of second opinions…
Doctors are only human, they make mistakes too. You can’t fault them for that and you can’t fault them for the constraints that are placed on them by the need for more medical professionals. If you get a questionable diagnosis then get a second opinion, it’s your right and you shouldn’t feel bad for wanting one.
6. Speaking of wanting one…
You don’t just have the right to get a second opinion, you also have a right to any of your medical record that you may want. It is always a good idea to have a copy for yourself, especially if you have chronic medical issues. Just because you move, doesn’t mean your medical records will follow. That emergency room visit? Yeah it’s a good idea to have your records just in case they don’t.
7. Google helps… kind of.
This is the information age, you can google just about everything [like the time I watched a Doctor google the name of a material used in casts… scary I know]. But that doesn’t mean what you read is actually good [or even true] information. Googling a diagnosis is a good idea to make sure that your symptoms fit and to make sure you don’t want that second opinion. But how do you trust a study? Well this is a good start on what to look for, also Google Scholar will help filter out some of the garbage.
8. What’s the name of that pill again?
It’s simple I know, but keep track of your medications. Drug interactions are important to keep in mind as well and without knowing what you are taking, you can’t trust your Doctor will know any better than you do. You can find out about drug interactions here, but always talk to not only the doctor, but the pharmacist. They will know more about the Drugs than the Doctor ever will.
9. Don’t take no for an answer.
You are your best advocate, if you have a family history of colon cancer at a extremely young age then even if your Doctor doesn’t want to send you to a specialist or run tests that doesn’t make it the right choice. Doctors work on statistics, which is why they recommend age ranges for certain tests. That doesn’t mean there aren’t outliers. So speak up for yourself if you don’t think you are getting your point across.
10. Research your options
You don’t have to be locked into the Doctor you are seeing, if you aren’t getting the care you feel you deserve then move on. Same goes for the choices regarding treatment, know your options, discuss them with your Doctor, decide risk vs. benefit and the side effects of said treatment. You aren’t locked into anything until it is done, just remember that, there might be something that fits your needs better that wasn’t discussed right away.
The bottom line is that you are your best advocate, do your research and make sure you keep track of your medical records along with your symptoms. Who knows, it is something serious it may just save your life or the life of someone you love.
Singh H., Meyer A.N.D. & Thomas E.J. The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations, BMJ Quality & Safety, DOI: 10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002627