4 Things Women Can Do to Prevent a Misdiagnosis

If you were to guess how many people receive a misdiagnosis every year in the US, what would be your estimate? 100,000? 500,000? 1 million? According to the National Academy of Medicine, about 12 million people per year receive a misdiagnosis. Here’s another startling fact: most of those 12 million people are women.

How Many Women Receive a Misdiagnosis?

Consider these sobering statistics:

  • Women are 50% more likely to have a heart attack misdiagnosed than men.
  • On average, it takes women 5 years to receive a diagnosis for an autoimmune disease. (And women are three times more likely to have an autoimmune disease than men.)
  • Female-specific conditions, such as endometriosis, can take up to a decade to diagnose.

We recently shared how common medical errors are in the US. When a woman receives a wrong diagnosis – or no diagnosis – the impact can be devastating. She can miss a critical window of treatment or suffer side effects from unneeded medications.

A quick Google search yielded no shortage of harrowing stories like these:

Ask your female friends and family members if they’ve ever felt that their doctor hasn’t listened to them. No doubt, you’ll end up hearing many troubling experiences.

What Steps Can Women Take to Prevent a Misdiagnosis?

It’s clear that there are biases when it comes to receiving fair health care. So, what can women do when facing a medical condition? What steps can they take to prevent receiving a misdiagnosis?

Here are four simple steps.

Tip #1: Find a doctor who listens to you

Ideally, find a good general practitioner before you need one. One way to find a quality doctor is by asking your female friends and family members who they’d recommend. Take time to read reviews about doctors. Call the office and ask questions (“how accessible is this doctor?” “how long has she been in practice?”).

Another tip: consider going to a female practitioner. Results show that female doctors tend to spend more time with their patients. Another study conducted by Harvard revealed that patients who see female doctors tend to live longer.

Tip #2: Come prepared for your appointments

At your appointment, you’ll likely only get 15 minutes of your doctor’s time. This is time you are paying good money for, so come prepared to maximize those 15 minutes.

Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Write out your goal for the appointment. What are you hoping to leave with after meeting with your doctor? For instance, an appointment for diagnostic screening, “next steps” for your care, or a referral to a specialist?
  • Write out your medical concerns, then prioritize the list. It can be easier than you think to forget key details, especially when the clock is ticking. Make sure to lead the appointment with your most pressing concern.
  • Write out your questions, and come prepared to take notes. What questions do you need addressed? Jot down answers, suggestions, and comments from your doctor’s appointment. Make sure to leave with any after-visit summaries.
  • Keep and bring your medical records. Compile reports, prescriptions, test results, and anything relevant about your health.

Do not feel silly to bring your questions and a notepad. It shows you care about your health, and value your doctor’s time and feedback.

Tip #3: Bring someone with you – or find a patient advocate

For key appointments, bring a friend or family member if you’re able. On the way to the doctor’s office, discuss your goals for the appointment and the questions you’re planning to ask. Give your friend or family member permission to step in and gently help redirect or clarify, if need be.

Another option to consider is hiring a patient advocate. A patient advocate is an independent third-party who can help you navigate the health system. Think of them as a go-between the patient and doctors.

This could be useful if:

  • You’re facing a complex health problem and need help weighing treatment options.
  • You need help connecting with the right health care providers and/or making sense of your rights, insurance, and bills.
  • You or a family member needs elder or end-of-life care.

The drawback to hiring a patient advocate is that it may be expensive, and not covered by your insurance. The upside is that an advocate may find you answers that improve your quality of life and potentially, save you money. If you’re interested to learn more, you can find an advocate near you.

Tip #4: Learn to be assertive

Women are often socially conditioned to be polite and deferential. Unfortunately, there are many situations, such as health care, where this could backfire.

Here are some ways you can be assertive when it comes to dealing with doctors:

  • It’s OK to question the doctor’s diagnosis or treatment. Ask: “how sure are you that this is the correct diagnosis?” Ask: “are there any other treatment options I could consider?”
  • Get a second – or even third – opinion. Do not hesitate to get a second, separate opinion. Or even third, depending on the severity of your condition. Also, you might find it useful to see a doctor in another area of practice.
  • Follow-up as you need.  The old adage “no news is good news” is no longer sound medical advice. If you’re not getting what you need from your doctor, reach out.

Have you been the victim of medical malpractice, such as receiving a misdiagnosis? Please call the attorneys at Ladenburg Law today to schedule a free consultation.

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