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8 Ways to Help Your Doctor Make the Right Diagnosis

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WebMD Feature

When you feel sick, achy, or exhausted, you want to know why. You want to know now. But it's not always easy to find the right diagnosis, especially when your symptoms are vague or common. And unfortunately, some of the time the experts come up with a misdiagnosis.

Nobody knows the exact number of cases that are misdiagnosed every year. A rough estimate can be gleaned from studies of autopsies, which show a diagnosis error rate of 10% to 15%. And a recent study of medical malpractice claims done at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Silver Spring, MD found that the top five conditions most commonly misdiagnosed in family medicine were heart attack, breast cancer, appendicitis, lung cancer, and colon cancer. 

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Since we all don't have the luxury of Dr. House to go to for our diagnoses, here are eight things you should do to make sure you're getting the right diagnosis from your doctor.

1. Plan for Your Appointment With Specialists

Get a list together of what's been done so far – any tests you've taken, X-rays, MRIs, blood work, etc, and get copies of them. By law you're entitled to your medical records. To do that, call any health care provider you've already seen and ask for an authorization for the release of information form. Laws differ from state to state, but most facilities are allowed to charge a reasonable fee for copying and sending records.

2. Write Down Each Symptom

"You'd be surprised how frequently patients come to me and then maybe an hour later, I learn 'oh I forgot to tell you something' and that thing they forgot is really important," says Charles Cutler, MD, an internist from Norristown, Pa., and chair of the American College of Physicians' Board of Governors.

Sit down at least once, preferably two or three times before your appointment, and write down what you want to talk to the doctor about. And bring a pen and paper to the appointment. If you hear something disturbing, like, "It's possible it might be a tumor," you probably won't remember anything your doctor said, other than "tumor," so write as much down as you can.

If your doctor uses electronic medical records, you can even ask for a copy of his notes on your way out of the office.

3. Know Your Medical History

Go through your family tree and look at what diseases and conditions run through it. If you don't know, ask your relatives. Conditions like cancer, heart disease, even depression and anxiety have a genetic component, says Caroline Abruzese, MD, president of Personalized Healthcare in Atlanta.

4. Bring in Your Medications

You want to make sure you're taking the correct medicine at the correct dose. "Over the years I've seen some unusual things with medications, including the wrong pill in a bottle," says Cutler.

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