Protect Yourself From Your Doctor's Mistakes: Part 2


Yesterday I wrote about the difficulties that women face in getting the right diagnosis from their doctor. But women aren’t the only ones facing this problem—in fact men face many of the same issues. Take one man who came to the ER complaining of a persistent cough that had lasted for several days who thought he needed to see an emergency room doctor. However, when the nurse at the triage looked at him she didn’t think he looked that sick so she sent him to the walk-in clinic down the hall instead. By the time the doctor at the walk-in clinic saw the man, he’d been in the waiting room for two hours and was breathing very heavily. The doctor rushed to call the ER as the man’s lips turned blue. Sadly, the man died three days later from Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Who’s fault was it? The triage nurse’s fault because she failed to acknowledge how bad he felt, or his fault, since he didn’t tell the nurse he was also HIV positive? No matter whose fault it was, you can take this man’s horrific story and make several mental notes to yourself to avoid a similar fate:

  • The doorway diagnosis: doctors immediately assign a diagnosis upon seeing you in the doorway of their office. They see many patients a day, and although it’s not a good habit to get into, they lump patients together by visible symptoms to make things simpler when it comes to diagnosing your problem. However, you can avoid receiving an incorrect diagnosis by avoiding some common moves that patients make. Read on to learn about what you should avoid doing at your doctor’s office.
  • What’s really wrong?: one of the most important things you can do is to avoid saying yes to every physical symptom that your doctor mentions. For example, if your doctor starts going through a list of possible symptoms, don’t say yes to every single one just because you have a slight tingle or itch. This makes it even more difficult for your doctor to decipher which of your “yeses” is significant and to truly know what’s making you sick.
  • A deeper problem: you also need to ask yourself what you might be doing to exacerbate your feelings of illness. For example, if you’re drinking twenty cups of coffee a day, working extremely long hours, and not getting enough sleep, that could be more than half of the problem. Be honest with your doctor and let him/her know all of your bad habits that could be contributing to how you feel.
  • Don’t lie: I realize that this was mentioned in the last tip, but I can’t stress enough how important it is not to lie to your doctor. Doctors ask embarrassing questions because it’s part of their job. Indeed, the most common questions that people lie about are how much they eat, how much they exercise, whether they smoke, how many sexual partners they’ve had, and how much they drink. All of these factors can contribute to illness, so it’s important that you be as honest as you can be with your doctor.

It will probably always be the case that your doctor surmises your condition before you’ve even opened your mouth to say a word. But these tips are not to suggest that your doctor still doesn’t have a responsibility to see you as a person, and not as a case from a textbook. Nevertheless, you can still be an advocate for your own health and make the chances all the better that you receive a correct diagnosis the first time you visit your doctor.

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