Protect Yourself From Your Doctor's Mistakes: Part 1

For many women, the good old days of simply putting yourself in the caring hands of your doctor are over. Today’s clinics and hospitals are overwhelmed with many patients and lots of paperwork and it’s more likely that you’ll be passed around to various doctors—especially at big private practices. In addition, young women’s generally good health can work against them since doctors are less likely to look for serious illnesses. Take, for example, Alexa Stevenson of St. Paul, Minnesota, who, at age 25, went to her doctor’s office complaining of horrendous cramps, severely irregular menstrual cycles, and a weight gain of fifty pounds. Her general practitioner tested her for an irregular thyroid, but those test results were normal. Then, she was passed on to a gynecologist, who ordered a host of blood tests. However, those results also revealed nothing abnormal. Ultimately, she was prescribed birth control pills to regulate her cycle and instructed to take Advil for the cramping pain. Unsatisfied with the remedies her doctors provided, Alexa decided to search the web for answers and at her next gynecological appointment, she timidly offered up an explanation of her own: polycystic ovarian syndrome, the leading cause of infertility. Alexa suffered for two years before she, herself, discovered her problem.

Alexa’s experience is not abnormal, however. In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, tens of thousands of patients are misdiagnosed every year—medical mistakes are the eighth leading cause of death. Furthermore, roughly 49 million Americans, many of them young women, who go to their doctor’s office with a problem, leave with an incorrect diagnosis. There are several steps that young women can take to protect themselves from an incorrect diagnosis. Continue reading to find out what you can do:

  • Many women use their gynecologist as their primary doctor. Don’t go to your doctor to get diagnoses for all sorts of bodily maladies: specialists are specialists for a reason.
  • Don’t schedule multiple appointments with multiple doctors. Most women don’t have time to get sick, let alone tend to symptoms. As a result, many women will accept the first diagnosis that comes along so that they can get on with their lives. This can cause major problems in the future.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. There is something about an authority figure in a white lab coat that leaves even the bravest women shivering in their thin, paper gowns. In addition, there is also a strange parent-child relationship that sometimes develops between a patient and a doctor. This is particularly evident when the patient addresses the doctor by their professional title, while the doctor addresses the patient by their first name. Young women might succumb to these behaviors even more than their older counterparts. However, don’t hesitate to ask questions, don’t lie about symptoms, and don’t be afraid to discuss “private” physical symptoms.
  • Research doctors: before you even put on a paper gown, comparison-shop for doctors. Use review sites like and if all the doctors at a particular practice are booked, ask to see a nurse practitioner—they are a good first step to get your foot in the door of a medical group, they can prescribe meds, and they are often more available than physicians.
  • Keep close track of your medical history. Your doctor cannot possibly know everything about you, so provide a full recap of your medical history, particularly family history of certain illnesses.
  • Double-check your diagnosis: there are thousands of medical diagnoses but most doctors only see about 250 of them over the course of their career. Doctors are taught that the obvious culprit is usually the right one, and it often is. But doctors can also jump to conclusions after diagnosing dozens of patients. So don’t be afraid to remind your doctor that other possibilities still exist that also align with your symptoms, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
  • Be an empowered patient. If you’re still sick after receiving a diagnosis and treatment, schedule another appointment. Also, don’t be tempted to just sit back and swallow whatever meds your doctor prescribes; one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always apply in medicine.
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