Help Employees Avoid a Costly Misdiagnosis

Simple steps can reduce the waste and suffering from incorrect treatment plans

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Apr 10, 2014

Misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate and costly medical treatments. Here are five steps that employers can pass on to their employees to help them get the right care, according to Best Doctors Inc., a health benefits company:

  • Don’t be shy. Be curious and insistent. Ask your doctor questions about your diagnosis and treatment. Ask things like, “What else could this be?” Keep asking questions every step of the way until you’re satisfied with the answers.
  • Get a second opinion. Focus on telling the doctor all of your symptoms. Don’t guide their thinking toward what the first doctor said you have.
  • Know your family medical history. Make sure your doctor knows about it. Studies show your family history may tell you more about what kinds of illnesses you may have or are likely to get than even genetic testing.
  • Take someone with you to doctor visits. It’s hard to comprehend difficult medical news and pay attention to all the details at the same time. Bring along a friend or family member to remind you of questions you want to ask, and to help you write down important notes.
  • Have your pathology re-checked. If you had a biopsy and your diagnosis is based on your pathology report, try to get it reviewed again. Pathology is incorrectly interpreted more often than commonly thought. If that interpretation is wrong, your diagnosis—and your treatment—are probably going to be wrong, too.

Misdiagnoses on the Rise

"Cases of delayed, missed, and incorrect diagnosis are common, with an incidence in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent," the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2012. "Diagnostic errors do not occur only in connection with unusual conditions but span the breadth of clinical medicine, from rare disorders to commonplace ones like anemia and asthma."

"While diagnostic errors are the leading cause of malpractice litigation, the vast majority of errors do not result in legal action," the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit policy research organization, noted last year. "A recent study on the Veterans Administration hospital system in Texas estimated that there are at least 500,000 missed diagnostic opportunities that occur out of the 500 million primary care visits that occur annually in the United States."

“Every patient must become his or her own best advocate, and these simple measures could mean the difference between life and death,” said David Seligman, chairman and CEO of Best Doctors. “This helps to reduce the tremendous waste in spending that stems from an incorrect diagnosis or treatment plan.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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