The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) recently released a report that runs hundreds of pages describing the problem of misdiagnosis in medicine. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to read the whole report to find out what they suggest to reduce the odds of being misdiagnosed.  My previous column highlighted information to be sure you provide to doctors, nurses, and other care providers.  This week’s column highlights some questions researchers urge you to ask to protect yourself.

When you first meet with a doctor:

  • What could be causing my problem?
  • What else could it be?
  • When will I get my test results?
  • What should I do to follow up?

When you get test results:

  • What do these results mean?
  • What needs to happen next?

Once treatment starts:

  • When should I come back to see you?
  • What should I expect from this treatment?
  • What will it do for me? (When should I start to feel better?)
  • What should I do if I develop new symptoms?
  • What should I do if I start to feel worse?

For checklists of information to provide and questions to ask, search online for [IOM Reports], select “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care,” and select the file titled “Resources for Improving Communication.”

Another organization, the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, offers a useful patient toolkit to help you organize information to take to the doctor. Search online on [SIDM patient toolkit]. It does ask for your name and email address to access the download.

It covers preparing for your appointment, tracking pain and/or other symptoms, recording medicines you are taking, and what to do after your appointment.

For example, it offers a form with blanks for you to fill in to capture:

  • Your top three medical concerns
  • The topics you want to discuss first
  • Your goals for the appointment

They also suggest that you ask the doctor or nurse to explain how they arrived at the diagnosis they gave you:  was it based on test results?  On their physical exam of you?  Or on something else?

You increase your chances of getting an accurate diagnosis if you provide clear and complete information and ask thoughtful questions. 

While the research and toolkit referenced in this article do not focus on treatments, to get the treatment that’s the best fit for you, ask questions when treatments are proposed:

  • If all goes as hoped, how will this treatment improve my well-being?
  • How many people out of 100 get that good result?
  • What are the downsides of this treatment?
  • How many people out of 100 experience one of those downsides?
  • What other treatments are available? (And ask the questions above about each of these.)
  • What happens if I don’t get treated?