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Avoid Misdiagnosis - 7 Effective Strategies to Take Control and Decrease Your Odds.

Are you fed up with multiple doctor appointments and ongoing misdiagnoses? Do you trust medical professionals to make the right decision? This post will help you get to an answer faster. You will discover 7 simple tips to take control of your medical care.

According to American Journal of Medicine, general medical misdiagnosis are estimated to be as high as 17%. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explained that mental health misdiagnosis are estimated to be as high as 98%.

Yowza! Those statistics are high.


The Question

Why are there so many medical misdiagnosis?

We trust medical professionals to figure out (and fix) whatever is wrong. We forget that medicine is complicated and that clinicians are human.

Clinicians are highly trained individuals that diagnose and treat through a very specialized lens. These professionals rely heavily on differential diagnosis to accurately interpret symptoms.

Sometimes one specialist misses what another may see.

Is this phenomenon unusual in a society of clinical specificity?


Therefore, all diagnoses should be made by a team of specialists.

Did you think to yourself, “Sure Robyn, what fantasy world are you living in?"

"What is medical utopia?"


Medical Misdiagnosis

Several years ago, an evil spider took up residence in our home. Or so we thought…

I found a tiny red wound on my thigh that I assumed was a bug bite. It was mildly swollen and sore. It didn’t take long to heal so I didn’t worry about it.

A few weeks later I found another hole in a different place.

This time it grew quickly. It was hot and filled with pus. Shortly thereafter my boyfriend, Brian, began to experience the same symptoms. His wound progressed much faster and he had red lines running away from the 'bite'. We were worried about blood poisoning so he went to an urgent care center.

The MD told him it was an infected spider bite and prescribed antibiotics. It cleared up quickly.

Within a few weeks I found a third wound.

This time I went to the doctor. The MD left the office to retrieve a medical book. She showed me pictures and told me it was a brown recluse spider bite. The images didn't seem to match my symptoms but I didn't say anything.

My slight fear (who am I kidding) of spiders became a minor (major) obsession and I asked Brian to scour the house for spider infestations. He humored me and found a creepy crawly that we unsuccessfully tried to identify on the internet. Convinced we were being invaded by something hellaciously (a technical term) poisonous - I sent it out to an insect identification lab to have it analyzed.

Then I convinced Brian to bomb the house.

Meanwhile, Brian and I took turns with “bites” number 4, 5 and 6.

Each was increasingly worse than the last. Number 4 was just below his right knee causing intense pain and a limp.

Number 5 was on the back of my thigh. Any pressure on the wound was excruciating. Sitting was complicated.

We read up on how to handle infected bug bites. Soak it in warm water, allow the puss to drain...blah...blah...blah.

Number 6 was on my arm. By this time, having no success searching the internet for the type of spider would cause this type of reaction. I started searching for our symptoms rather than the cause and a completely different diagnosis emerged.

This time I went to the doctor armed with questions and a possible diagnosis.

I asked if it could be MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). She was receptive to this idea and did a culture.

Ding, ding, ding - we have a winner! Because MRSA is highly contagious, we had been giving it back and forth to each other for months.

Had I had the guts to discuss my thoughts with the MD earlier, we may have spared ourselves months of recurring pain.

Maybe this misdiagnosis is less common now.

Because in preparation for this blog post I re-googled spider bite infections and found an article describing the difference between spider bites and MRSA. The article stated “In recent years, however, MRSA can be commonly found in community settings such as schools, gyms, health spas, and even nail salons. So maybe this misdiagnosis is less common now.


Mental Health Misdiagnosis

Now consider the following scenario - Maria has 2 checkups scheduled and an appointment with her therapist.

First she tells her gynecologist (GYN) that she is always tired and her periods are heavy and irregular.

At the next appointment, she explains to her general practitioner (GP) that she is tired and unusually cold (but doesn't mention the irregular menstruation).

Later in the week she tells her social worker (SW) that she is always tired and isn't motivated to do anything.

With this information only, the GYN may initially consider anemia, the GP may want to rule out hypothyroidism, and the SW may investigate depression.

Each professional will analyze the symptoms through the highly specialized looking lens they spent many years cultivating.


The Problem

Providing an accurate diagnosis can be difficult for professionals in all areas of #healthcare.

For many years, a dear friend has walked a long and complicated path of misdiagnosis with her son. She recently told me, "We say 'practice medicine' for a reason."

Medicine is complicated and professionals are technically practicing their skills. Change is constant and new learning is mandatory.

There was a time when MDs told people diagnosed with diverticulitis not to eat seeds. The thought was that tiny food particles might get lodged in the intestine and cause a painful flareup.

This was never proven to be true.

Math problems have a definitive answer. Health problems do not.

Doctors are consistently practicing medicine.

Both the clinician AND the patient are responsible for reducing the risk of misdiagnosis.

Barriers to an accurate diagnosis:


  • Overconfidence. One study in the American Journal of Medicine revealed clinicians who were “completely certain” of their diagnosis were 40% wrong.

  • Increased productivity expectations - professionals have less time to listen to patient. (This is becoming a huge problem in our society resulting in burnout and compassion fatigue.)

  • Clinicians diagnose what they are comfortable treating.

  • Familiarity with #symptoms that are described.


  • Providing incomplete information.

  • Thinking, “The doctor knows best.”

  • Dismissing their own thoughts and opinions.

  • Fear of being judged.

  • Denial (I have been there - done that ... a millions times).


The Solution

Unleash your power with these 7 trustworthy #communications strategies.

Over the years, I have had numerous physical health and #MentalHealth misdiagnosis. My high #anxiety and insecurity always got in the way. (Check out this post on how sometimes life pops out of control.) I would doubt everything I thought and convince myself I was wrong. Once I started using the following strategies, I started getting to answers quicker. If I can do it - you can do it!

1) Trust your gut - most important!

  • Above all - you know you (or your child) better than anyone else.

  • Ignore naysayers. Don't let someone tell you you are wrong for how you think or feel. (For me it was, "You are too young and healthy to get MRSA.")

2) Talk to friends and family, acquaintances, strangers. Anyone. Everyone.

  • Someone may have had a similar experience. (I am surprised how many people I have talked to who have had, or know someone who had, misdiagnosed MRSA infections.)

3) Don’t trust your memory! I don’t know about you - but I get nervous at the MD.

  • Write your thoughts and questions down before you go to the doctor. (My brother types up a list of symptoms and gives it to his doctor. I use the note app on my phone.)

  • Bring a friend.

  • Take notes in the MD's office. (I ALWAYS get home and forget.)

4) Utilize the internet. (Back in the day I looked through a medical encyclopedia before calling the doctor.)

  • Don’t feel guilty using the internet.

  • Research your symptoms not a diagnosis.

5) Strive to be wrong.

  • Describe your symptoms not a diagnosis. For example, "My throat hurts” vs. "I have strep throat.”

  • Tell them how it REALLY is! Don't minimize your symptoms.

  • Explain everything (even if it doesn’t seem relevant).

  • Pump up your courage and disagree if necessary. (I felt like an idiot and thought I had to be wrong about MRSA because the MD didn’t bring it up.)

6) Trash your thoughts that “the doctor it always right.”

  • Ask questions (lots and lots of questions).

  • Get a second opinion. (Don't be like me and worry you will hurt the doctor's feelings. A good doctor will encourage a second opinion.)

7) Don't give up.

  • I once knew a family that, despite opposition from both education and medical professionals, kept poking and prodding for years. They eventually discovered their son had Lyme Disease.

Tell us your #misdiagnosis story in the comments.


About the author: Robyn's career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) together with her graduate education in psychology gives her a unique perspective of cognitive-linguistic (thinking-talking) difficulties associated with daily stress and mental illness. #ThinkTalkDo

Disclaimer: Content in this blog is for informational purposes only. Statements are Robyn's thoughts and opinions and should NOT be used to diagnose or treat any disorders related to cognition, communication, or mental illness.

For mental health concerns please contact your doctor or therapist. If you need a mental health provider, Psychology Today is an excellent resource.


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