Helping Your Doctor Make the Diagnosis

How can you help your doctors make the correct diagnoses? 

Knowing what I know as a physician about the challenges of making diagnoses, I follow some rules as a patient when seeing my physicians. One is to refrain from reporting diagnoses. Instead, I report the story of my signs and symptoms that prompted the visit.

This way, my doctors are not biased by my suggesting a diagnosis up front. By helping them listen with an open mind, this approach helps them avoid cognitive errors that could lead to a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis.

I'll say, "Two weeks ago I developed a sore throat. Last week my sinuses began draining"--and not, "I've developed a sinus infection."

If at the end of our discussion my physicians offer a different diagnosis than I expect and I'm still concerned about a different possibility, I might offer what I thought was going on. For example, "I'm not challenging your diagnosis. I just want to add that this feels like XYZ I've had in the past (or, I was thinking it might be XYZ....)."  

To optimize our time for discussion, I prepare before my visits by...

  1. Writing a list of the issues I want to discuss.
  2. Writing a brief chronology of all the important signs and symptoms.
  3. Asking my husband if I missed anything he thinks should be mentioned. 

Healthy Survivors take steps to help their physicians make timely, accurate diagnoses. 

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    My job is to help my physicians make timely, accurate diagnoses--and not to be my own doctor.