From the Washington Post

Dr. Itzhak Brook, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, was repeatedly told by his physician that his throat pain was he result of acid reflux. Seven months later Dr. Brook learned it was cancer, a delay that cost him his voice box, so now he can only speak in a whisper.

Financial executive Karen Holliman, was told her increasingly severe fatigue was fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or a psychiatric problem. It was metastatic breast cancer, missed on a scan.

A 2009 report funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that 28% of 583 diagnostic mistakes reported anonymously by doctors were life-threatening or had resulted in death or permanent disability.

How can these errors be prevented? What actions can a patient take that may prevent errors like these?

First, take responsibility for your care. Be your own best advocate or find someone who can do that for you.

Second, be well-prepared for your appointment. Prepare questions and write down all symptoms including when and where they occur, how long they last, what if anything relieves them, and how they compare to other similar symptoms you may have had in the past.

Third, ask for alternative diagnoses – known as the differential diagnoses. This will answer the question, “what else could it be?”.

Fourth, for anything remotely serious, get a confirming opinion from a second or even third doctor who is independent from the diagnosing physician.

Fifth, do not accept arrogance or refusal to answer your questions. Find someone else.

Sixth, check your medical records and test results. Confirm they are negative if that is what you were told. Also,confirm any positive results. Report any discrepancies to your physician.

Seventh, trust your gut. If your intuition tells you something is wrong, but your doctor says everything is okay, investigate further. If a diagnosis does not make sense, or treatment is ineffective, and your doctor is not helping, contact another doctor. If you feel stonewalled, or need clarification, contact a patient advocate.