Why do diagnostic failures by doctors still happen?

Doctors have more tools than ever before to help them diagnose medical conditions accurately. Every year, researchers develop new tests that can provide an affirmative diagnosis for specific medical conditions.

Beyond that, as information becomes more widely available about medical conditions, it is easier for physicians to rule out certain causes of symptoms and focus on other possible explanations.

With imaging tests and even genetic sequencing available, you might imagine that doctors no longer have much risk of making diagnostic mistakes. However, thousands of patients every year suffer unfortunate medical outcomes because their physicians failed to diagnose them. How does this still happen?

Doctors don’t have time to listen

Whether you attend an appointment you made well ahead of time with your primary care physician or you end up at an urgent care facility due to sudden, unexpected symptoms, you have to convey your experience to your doctor for them to arrive at a reasonable diagnosis. Getting your doctor to actually listen to you could be harder than you think.

The sad truth is that many doctors have more patients to see and paperwork to do than they can reasonably complete during their shifts. They rush patients through interactions and often jump to conclusions about the cause of their symptoms, sacrificing accuracy on the altar of efficiency. Most patients only receive about 11 seconds of listening from their doctor.

A doctor’s personal biases affect the care they provide

Every individual has some amount of internalized bias that affects how they treat people of certain backgrounds. Internal biases affect the kind of medical care that people receive. Older adults, women and non-white patients may have a harder time getting an accurate diagnosis and proper care.

As if that weren’t enough, a doctor’s experiences on the job can bias how they perceive certain symptoms. They may assume your situation mirrors similar circumstances that they have encountered in the past without affirmatively diagnosing you or ruling out other, possibly serious causes, like cancer.

Misdiagnosis can mean a delay in getting care or receiving the wrong treatment. Recognizing what leads to misdiagnosis or a failure to diagnose can help you determine if inadequate care or bias contributed to your unfavorable medical situation.

 

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