Your Health: Ask Questions and then ask more questions

Most of the time will correctly diagnose their patients and provide appropriate treatment. However, like all human beings, doctors can make mistakes. Most of the time mistakes in diagnosing are not a big deal. But, there are times when a wrong diagnosis can have serious, indeed fatal consequences.

Patrick Malone recommends that whenever you go to the doctor with an illness or injury, ask one crucial question: Doctor, what else could it be? That is not a question that most of us would be comfortable asking. Will the doctor think that we don’t trust his judgment? Will we insult the doctor by asking the question? Ask it anyway!

Pushing the doctor into thinking about your case may be a matter of life or death. Doctors sometimes think they know what is wrong with you, and ignore the facts that don’t fit within their diagnosis. Recently we represented an individual who had every single symptom of a major heart attack: sharp pain in his chest that came on suddenly and traveled down his left arm together with shortness of breath, and the worst pain he had ever had in his life, pain that wasn’t helped with pain medication. He was driving a truck far from home. He called EMS and was taken to the nearest hospital. The doctor who saw him performed one test that gave him reason to think it was not a heart attack despite the fact our client had all the classical symptoms. Yet, after the doctor ruled out the other possibilities he thought of, he decided that our client just had a bad case of indigestion. Eight hours after our client arrived in the emergency room the doctor finally repeated the earlier tests which confirmed a massive heart attack. The only reason that the doctor ultimately did the second round of tests is that our client’s daughter, a registered nurse, arrived at the hospital and insisted that the tests be done. Because of the time delay, the opportunity to do things which would have lessened the impact of the attack passed. As a result, the damage was much more severe than it would have been and our client is now unable to work and has an internal defibrillator which shocks him when his heart goes out of sync.

Our client had the unfortunate experience of being treated by a doctor who was mediocre at best. Our client was in too much pain to think clearly, so it was only after his daughter arrived at the hospital that the important “what else could it be” question was asked. If our client had had an advocate in the hospital right away, odds are that he would have been diagnosed hours earlier, with a much better outcome.

It is human nature that when we think we know an answer to something that it is very hard for someone to change our minds. Once a doctor makes an initial diagnosis, it is psychologically difficult for that doctor to admit making a mistake. As patients and patient advocates, it is our job to make sure that the doctor has thought through our situation, that the proper tests have been ordered and that all of the evidence fits in with the conclusion. This is called evidence based medicine which, unfortunately, is not used by all doctors.

What do you do if you think your doctor hasn’t thought through your case and you’re concerned that he’s missing something? Simple. Go see another doctor. Get a second opinion. It is your absolute right to fire your doctor if you’re unhappy. It’s your health, it’s your life and you and only you are responsible for it.