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How do you deal with patients that self-diagnose?

| Nov 10, 2020 | Medical Malpractice Defense |

You want your patients to be active and involved in their own health care — but that doesn’t mean you want them to spend hours on Google second-guessing you. Statistics gathered by Pew Research Center, however, indicate that roughly 35% of the adults in this country have turned to online sources for information that they can use to self-diagnose — instead of trusting their doctors.

So, how do you handle this kind of problem patient? On one hand, you don’t want to order a bunch of expensive and unnecessary diagnostic tests just to prove to your patient that they’re wrong. On the other hand, you don’t want to end up being sued for medical malpractice if they happen to be right.

Here are some suggestions that may help:

  1. Listen to what your patient has to say. Patients who have been struggling with ill health and pain for a while may be frustrated and angry at their past treatment by other doctors, especially if they feel like their symptoms were ignored or minimized. Don’t repeat that mistake.
  2. Do a complete physical exam and go over their history. Use your knowledge of the condition the patient thinks they may have to carefully evaluate the possibility that the patient may be right. While this does cost you some time, the results are worth it when it comes to both reassuring the patient of your diagnosis and preventing mistakes.
  3. If you conclude that the patient is wrong, explain your thinking. Tell the patient exactly why you are ruling out the condition they suggest. If there is an easy diagnostic test, you can run it for confirmation. If the test is complicated or invasive, explain why you don’t think it is necessary.
  4. Offer to get the patient a second opinion. There’s no harm in having another doctor weigh in on your diagnosis — and that may ultimately be the best way to protect yourself.

Medical malpractice claims may still happen, but you’ll never have to worry that you were cavalier or dismissive about a patient’s concerns.


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