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Better communication can prevent potential misdiagnosis

The five conditions that are most frequently misdiagnosed or diagnosed late are cancer, heart failure, pneumonia, kidney failure and UTIs. Even the best doctors in Pittsburgh are sometimes guilty of misdiagnosed cancer or a delay in diagnosis that leads to a worsened condition. While the burden of obtaining an accurate diagnosis should not rest on the patient, enhancing doctor-patient communication can prevent such problems.


Make sure that enough time is allowed for the doctor to evaluate your symptoms. The average time spent with a physician lasts just 21 minutes, which may or may not be enough time to diagnose a serious problem. If you are experiencing complex symptoms and think you will need more time, speak up. It is also a good idea to schedule appointments early in the day, when doctors are typically less rushed.

If the doctor offers a quick diagnosis based on your symptoms, ask why he or she thinks that. You might also want to ask if there is a possibility that it could be something else. The doctor should be able to explain with detail how he or she came to the diagnosis. It has been reported that patients are twice as likely to receive a misdiagnosis during an in-office visit rather than a hospital visit.


Finally, it is a good idea to follow up on test results. Do not assume that no news is good news. Ask your doctor when the results should be back and make an inquiry if you haven’t heard anything back by that time.
Even when patients do everything they can to articulate their symptoms and communicate clearly with doctors and nurses, there will unfortunately still be instances of misdiagnosed cancer or other ailments. In this case, you may want to open the lines of communication with an attorney.

Source: Consumer Reports on Health, “Mistakes even good doctors make,” November 2013.

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