How to Know If Your Doctor's Diagnosis Was Correct

When most people go to the doctor, they trust their physician will give them an accurate diagnosis followed by the correct treatment. While doctors are well trained and usually correct, diagnosis is certainly not perfect. It is important to know how to best ensure you are getting the correct diagnosis and what to do in case you are misdiagnosed.

Ask the Right Questions

According to an article in US News, doctors are correct in their initial diagnosis about 80 percent of the time. While this isn’t a bad average, misdiagnosis can have serious consequences. Since most doctors have massive caseloads, they spend minimal time with a patient and are under intense pressure to make a diagnosis quickly. Their initial diagnosis, which may be given after less than minute of observation and discussion with a patient, sets the stage for future diagnostics and treatment.

It is important for patients to put some pressure on their doctor with questions. A doctor is obligated to answer a patient’s questions honestly and completely, but if the patient doesn’t ask then the doctor may not be thinking through the diagnosis as fully as he or she should be. It is important to ask the doctor to explain why they came to a particular diagnosis. Did it involve a thorough look at medical history? A patient will also want to ask what other conditions they may have and if they could have multiple conditions. These questions force a busy or rushed physician to slow down and think more broadly about what they are seeing.

Verify Medical Tests

Most diagnoses are delivered after obtaining some kind of laboratory test or diagnostic procedure. Laboratory errors are a very common reason for misdiagnosis, and doctors are rarely conducting these tests themselves. A high-quality doctor may order laboratory tests conducted again if the results seem unclear or particularly surprising, but medical labs suffer from the same constraints and most physicians. They are overburdened and rushed. Tests are also expensive, and most hospitals won’t double check results or run the test again unless the patient specifically requests it.

If anything about a test or procedure is unclear, or if a doctor or hospital refuses to run a test again, then every patient is entitled to a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to go to another physician or care center to have the test redone.

Don’t Pressure the Doctor for a Quick Diagnosis

While many doctors are amazing sources of information, they are still human, and they want to please their patients and give them comfort and security. Doctors are also under pressure to always be in the know. They understand that patients and their professional standards simply expect them to have an answer to a problem.

The reality is medical problems can be very complex. The modern doctor has an incredible amount of information to retain. When a patient puts pressure on a doctor to give them a definitive answer, they may actually be hurting their own treatment. If a doctor truly isn’t sure about a diagnosis, or if they need more thorough testing to be done, then they should be willing to admit this to the patient. A patient can improve their chances of a correct diagnosis by encouraging the doctor to run more tests or have a longer discussion rather than to give them an answer immediately.

Malpractice Lawsuits

Despite many improvements to diagnostic procedures and a general trend toward more accurate diagnoses, a misdiagnosis can still occur. Sometimes these instances are simply overlooked. The symptoms may go away on their own, or the incorrect treatment may simply do nothing. Many times, however, a misdiagnosis results in very serious injury or even the death of the patient. It may also cause problems that didn’t exist before. Patients may be subjected to tests or treatments that cause more harm than good. Many medical conditions get much worse if they go undetected, especially cancers, infections and chronic illnesses.

When a patient suffers undue injury because of a misdiagnosis, they may be entitled to a medical malpractice lawsuit. A lawsuit will allow them to recover damages for any injuries caused by the misdiagnosis and the costs related to improper or unnecessary medical tests or treatments.

In a perfect world, every doctor would give every patient the correct diagnosis the first time. Since this is a less than perfect world, patients must take some extra care to ensure they get the correct diagnosis and catch a misdiagnosis before it causes harm. Patients should always be proactive with their doctor and treatment plan.


Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake. For your medical malpractice needs, Hannah recommends Otorowski Johnston Morrow & Golden P.L.L.C.

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