How to protect yourself from misdiagnosis
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
Q: My husband went to the emergency room for shortness of breath, and they sent him home, saying it was a result of his weight. Four hours later, we had to call an ambulance. He almost died — of an asthma attack! How can this happen?
— Mary M., Nashville
A: Let us assure you that everyone in the health-care field is working to prevent such mistakes. But misdiagnosis is a persistent problem: A new report says 39 percent of U.S. malpractice payments are for non-diagnosis or an incorrect or delayed one. And of all medical mistakes, diagnostic errors appear to be the most common, most costly and most dangerous.
On the health-care providers' part, missed diagnoses can come from fragmented medical records, overworked doctors, errors in pathology interpretations and lack of individualization of medical procedures and tests.
Patients contribute to the problem, too: You may fail to clearly communicate symptoms or not mention your family disease history. And, Mary, obesity further compounds the problem. Asthma symptoms often appear like breathlessness associated with excess weight. One study showed that one-third of obese folks who had asthma were misdiagnosed. Obesity also means MRIs and CT scans can be inconclusive. This problem has doubled in the past 15 years.
But misdiagnosis happens to people of all ages, weights, backgrounds and afflictions. So here's what you can do:
1. After any diagnosis ask: What else could it be? And why did you rule that out?
2. Show up with a short list of questions, then speak up; don't let the doc rush you.
3. Always call for lab tests results; don't wait for the doc to get back to you.
4. Share your medical info/diagnosis/ test results/medications with all your doctors, and get them talking to one another.
5. Get a second opinion. No good doctor will ever object to you doing that.
Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at email@example.com.