As a physician, a significant amount of your education will have focused on the symptoms of various conditions and how to evaluate a patient to reach a reasonable diagnosis.
Diagnostic skill may be one of the most critical services that a physician provides by helping rule out alternative explanations for symptoms so that a patient can quickly and effectively pursue the appropriate course of treatment. Unfortunately, not all attempts to diagnose a patient end in success.
Sometimes, an individual or their family members may try to bring a financial or legal claim against a doctor who didn’t make the correct diagnosis. While some misdiagnosis scenarios involve medical mistakes, many other times, the issue stems from patient behavior.
Many patients feel too embarrassed to discuss all of their symptoms
Certain medical symptoms can feel so embarrassing that patients can’t work up the courage to discuss them honestly with a physician during an office visit. Particularly when it comes to symptoms that affect the digestive tract or that involve sexual function, patients may fail to give an honest and thorough explanation of why they need medical help.
Encouraging your patients to be honest and forthright with you by being down-to-earth is useful, but you shouldn’t get held responsible when the patient doesn’t tell you all of the symptoms and their omission has a direct impact on your ability to accurately diagnose them.
Other patients exaggerate or ignore symptoms
If you have a patient who tends to drastically overstate every experience they have, that can make it difficult to trust them when they evaluate their pain or how frequently a condition wakes them out of sleep at night. It can be difficult to work with a patient and reach an accurate diagnosis when you know they have a history of hyperbole or exaggeration.
On the other hand, some people will largely ignore or downplay symptoms. A patient may have had tingling or pain in their left arm for several days and will still fail to mention that because they don’t think it is a significant symptom.
When you can’t trust what your patient says or when they don’t tell you everything they experience, that could easily lead to a failed diagnosis. In this kind of situation, if a patient or their surviving family members try to take legal action against you, the patient’s history of non-disclosure or improper communication could potentially help you defend your reputation and profession against such allegations.