#16. Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Diagnosis

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A recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that diagnostic error contributes to 10% of all deaths. Even worse? Every one of us will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime.

If you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, or other serious illnesses, if you've had a cancer recurrence, or if you've received an abnormal lab test or imaging result, if you've had back pain and your doctor is recommending surgery—this episode will teach you how to make sure that you and your doctor are working together on the exact right diagnosis and treatment.

While the temptation to rush into surgery or powerful treatments can be overpowering, now is not the time to make snap decisions. Now is the time to take a deep breath and start asking questions.

What Is Diagnostic Error?

Diagnostic errors include diagnoses that are missed, diagnoses that are incomplete, and diagnoses that are just plain wrong. These kinds of mistakes are costly and common, and they can be deadly.

Questions to Ask About Your Diagnosis

These 8 questions are a starting point for conversations with your doctor. Supplement them with questions related to your specific circumstances and concerns.

  1. I understand that you believe I have this disease, but how confident are you in the diagnosis?        
  2. Is there anything else could this be?      
  3. Are there more tests that can be done to confirm this diagnosis?
  4. Was the lab test sample good/the imaging clear? Would it make sense to get a second read?
  5. Have you read all my medical records to get the full picture of my symptoms? Would it help if I went over them with you?    
  6. You say I have an abnormal blood test/a lab abnormality and that we can treat it with medication. But is it possible that this is indicative of a bigger problem? Are there other tests we should be doing to rule out serious diseases?     
  7. Before we move forward with treatment, are you confident we’ve explored all my options?
  8. I appreciate what you’re saying, and it sounds very serious. I’d like to get my lab reports/imaging/medical records in order to get a second opinion.

Additional Questions Specific to a Diagnosis of Cancer

If you're a cancer patient, here are three critical questions that you need to ask your oncologist.

  1. Should we conduct molecular diagnostics on my tissue, to make sure we understand what's driving my disease?
  2. Am I a candidate for the latest generation of targeted therapies, or immunotherapies, that I read about in the news as having higher efficacy and potentially fewer side effects?
  3. Are there clinical trials that we should consider? 

Episode Credits

  • Music is by PremiumBeat
  • The No-Mistake Zone with Leslie Michelson is produced by Lisa Sweetingham
  • Post-Production is by Shelli Gonshorowski and Sarah Lebowitz

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