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Understanding How Your Doctor Reaches A Diagnosis

Posted Jun 18 2009 1:51pm
A physician friend of mine who trains family practice residents at a Chicago hospital recently asked me to come and speak to them about medical negligence. She asked me to speak about the most common errors I see pertaining to family practice/primary care medicine. In anticipation I've been thinking about the kinds of mistakes I have seen over and over made by family and primary care physicians. One trend I have been able to identify is the failure of the family doctor to properly use the process known as "differential diagnosis." This process is how your doctor figures out what is wrong with you. With it your doctor will make a list of possible ailments from which you may be suffering based upon your symptoms. He or she will then examine you and will perhaps order tests in order to rule out the ailments on the list until only one is left standing. That will be your diagnosis. Sadly, however, sometimes physicians get into trouble by ignoring this tenet of good medical practice. Family practice doctors tend to see the same ailments, diseases and complaints day in and day out. This unfortunately leads to laziness in the approach they take with their patients. After seeing the 100th patient in a given week with the same symptoms, the physician may side step the differential diagnosis process and jump right to a single diagnosis, which for patient number 100 may be dead wrong.

This morning I came across a very good article at About.com about how the patient can involve himself or herself in the differential diagnosis process. The crux of the article is that you can and should question, test your doctor in order to determine whether she used the differential diagnosis process or simply jumped to a single conclusion. Click here to read the entire article.
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