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Should I trust my diagnosis?

Over a fifth of patients find their first diagnosis to be incorrect

Stock photo.

Stock photo.

New research has shown that over 20 percent of patients discover their initial diagnosis to be inaccurate when sent for a second opinion, according to The Guardian.

This worrying study in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice bares resemblance to a report in 2015 from the National Academy of Medicine in the US, which states that the majority of people will have at least one incorrect or late diagnosis throughout their lifetime.

In this more recent study, researchers compared the diagnoses of 286 patients before and after their referral to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The results showed that one in every five patients ended up with a diagnosis that differed hugely to their initial one from primary care doctors. The Division of Health Care Policy and Research at the Mayo Clinic's Professor James M Naessens says, "with the diagnosis of a serious condition, if the condition is not responding as expected, it may be valuable to get another perspective." However, not every condition may need a second opinion, he adds. 

With the diagnosis of a serious condition, if the condition is not responding as expected, it may be valuable to get another perspective.

A study in the UK showed that, out of 1,000 patients who died in 10 hospitals, 5.2 percent of deaths could have potentially been prevented. It was found that just under a third of patients in the study had an incorrect diagnosis. Common conditions such as pneumonia, heart failure, acute kidney failure and cancer seem to be the ones that are often missed.

A doctor begins a diagnosis by familiarising himself with a patient's history, examinations are then carried out and a hypothesis is formed. This hypothesis is further determined by tests, more examinations and the possible presence of new symptoms. The patients involved in the Mayo Clinic's latest study generally had vague diagnoses to begin with. For example, an initial diagnosis of weight loss actualised as lymphoma, while a patient with anaemia, which can result from a number of diseases, was subsequently diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.

Patients are urged to inquire about any uncertainties they might have when being diagnosed. Asking your doctor to explain their thinking further or asking for the reason why they ruled out a condition that worries you in particular could help in clarifying how the outcome was reached. If uncertainties remain, generally, doctors do not mind if a patient gets a second opinion, as satisfied patients remain the ultimate goal.

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