what can you do to protect yourself from diagnostic errors

It’s every patient’s worst nightmare: You start experiencing chest pains and travel to the nearest emergency room for treatment, only to be informed by a physician that the condition is nothing more than a bout of indigestion. However, several hours after you return home, your loved one must frantically call 911 because you’ve gone into cardiac arrest.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, diagnostic errors — including nondiagnoses, delayed diagnoses and misdiagnoses — remain a viable threat despite remarkable advancements in modern medicine.

To illustrate, consider that researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently found that diagnostic errors were responsible for almost 35 percent of all medical malpractice claims filed in the United States over the last quarter century.

It’s important, however, to understand the threat posed by diagnostic errors in more than just financial terms. Whether caused by inadequate policies and procedures, incomplete medical records, pathology errors or otherwise-avoidable medical mistakes, diagnostic errors almost always have traumatic and lasting consequences for patients and their families.

What, then, can people do to protect themselves from falling victim to diagnostic errors?

According to medical experts, patients and their families can follow a few simple steps to safeguard themselves and their loved ones:

  • Once a physician makes an official diagnosis — whether in the office or the emergency room — ask the physician if there are any other possible diagnoses and, if so, why they can be safely ruled out.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a physician as many questions as you want, and don’t ever feel rushed.
  • Be certain to share any vital information (test results, diagnosis, etc.) with all of your treating physicians and facilitate communication if necessary.
  • Seek out a second opinion if you have concerns about the diagnosis.

If you or a family member has been harmed by what you believe was medical malpractice, you should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about seeking the justice you deserve.

Source: The Plain Dealer, “Tips for helping your doctors avoid misdiagnosis,” Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz, June 4, 2013

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