Patient Safety Tips for Reducing the Risk of a Misdiagnosis

When someone doesn’t feel good, they want to know what’s wrong so that they can receive the right treatment. No one wants to go through a procedure or take medication when it’s not necessary. So patients count on doctors to give them an accurate diagnosis.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. And while in most cases, it doesn’t result in serious consequences, for some people it can be life-threatening. But patients can help prevent the risk of this happening by keeping the following tips in mind.

What You Can Do to Make Sure the Diagnosis the Doctor Gives Is Correct

The following are some of the ways to protect yourself from receiving a misdiagnosis: 

  • keep a list of all tests that have been run and their results (blood work, x-rays, CT scans);
  • ask for copies of medical records to make sure what’s in them lines up with your documentation;
  • keep track of symptoms (description, time of day, length of time, what medication you took and if it worked, etc.);
  • don’t assume no word on test results is good news — always call and ask about them;
  • make sure you and the doctor know your medical history and your family’s medical history;
  • ask for a second opinion and/or to see a specialist if you have any misgivings;
  • note all medications (prescription, over-the-counter) and dosages prescribed/currently taking;
  • bring along a family member or friend who can be an advocate;
  • if under the care of more than one doctor, share results with all of them;
  • when telling the doctor about your symptoms, avoid generalities and be as descriptive as possible;
  • if given a diagnosis, ask how the doctor arrived at that and what can be expected (treatment, prognosis);
  • ask the doctor if it’s possible the symptoms describe more than one condition and how these are ruled out; and
  • ask questions (lots of them!) when in doubt or when concerned about a diagnosis. 
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