How to avoid misdiagnosis

Global access to healthcare

PUBLISHED: 12 June 2020 | LAST UPDATED: 29 June 2020

Dr Charlotte panuschka

Written in collaboration with Dr Charlotte Panuschka, MD

Prior to joining Teladoc Health (previously Advance Medical) as a Senior Physician Case Manager, Dr. Charlotte Panuschka was a visiting fellow at the Department for Otorhinolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery at Guy’s Hospital in London, UK.

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In this misdiagnosis series, we’ve been talking to Dr Charlotte Panuschka, who’s a Senior Physician Case Manager at Advance Medical – the provider we use for our  Virtual Doctor service. We’ve been finding out more about what a misdiagnosis is, commonly misdiagnosed conditions and why they’re often mistaken, as well as how it can be avoided.

A misdiagnosis can have a range of consequences, from being given the wrong medication, to delaying treatment for a more serious condition altogether. When making a diagnosis, a primary care medical practitioner will ask about your symptoms and take medical history and review results from any diagnostic tests, and then use professional judgement to understand what the problem is. 

Find out more about what a misdiagnosis is, here

What can patients do to reduce risk of misdiagnosis? 

Visiting your doctor or specialist should be a collaboration. Patients need to feel empowered to know they can ask questions and push for investigations if something doesn’t feel quite right, without feeling intimidated. It’s important to feel that you understand what you’re being told by your doctor, and feel comfortable with what they’re asking you to do, and why. Dr Charlotte Panuschka suggests these tips to get the most from your medical treatment and to avoid misdiagnosis:

Ask for a second opinion 
All AXA - Global Healthcare customers have direct access to a second medical opinion, to help them feel confident in their diagnosis and treatment plan. The independent service is provided by Advance Medical, who have a team of experts on hand to review your medical history and any recent test results to help reassure you about your diagnosis, or guide you to the best appropriate treatment plan, no matter how big or small the issue. 

Whether you just have some questions about your treatment plan, or you want a full review of your diagnosis, we work with independent medical experts to get you the answers and reassurance you need. So if you have any doubts, you can find out more information and how to request a second medical opinion, here.

Get involved 
For many conditions there is no unique process to match symptoms with a diagnosis. Finding the root cause of most symptoms takes time, taking into account medical history, clinical examination, as well as any diagnostic test such as blood tests or scans. Communication between yourself and the different medical professionals that may be involved is crucial. Being involved as a patient is really important and can reduce diagnostic errors or a delay in diagnosis. If you have any questions or want to know more about what might be happening and why, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor.

Be prepared for your appointment 
Consultation times are often limited, so preparing a diary ahead of your appointment to keep track of your symptoms and any treatment you may have already had can be really helpful for you and your doctor. If you’re in an unfamiliar country and don’t speak the language, it can be helpful to have someone you trust that can translate for you at the appointment. You could also consider downloading a translation app to your phone ahead of the appointment. If you have any doubts about the information you’ve been given, remember that if you’re an AXA – Global Healthcare member, the Second Medical Opinion service is available to help. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions 
A diagnosis is often set quickly and is closely followed by some form of treatment, which can be problematic if the diagnosis isn’t right. An alternate diagnosis may not be considered until much later. Having patients actively involved and asking questions (“Are there other diagnoses that we should consider?” “Could it be something else?”), or expressing concerns at times when treatment seems not to improve a condition can be extremely helpful. Sometimes, you might think of a question after the appointment and feel like you’ve missed your chance to ask, but don’t forget that if you’re an AXA – Global Healthcare member, you’ll have access to the Virtual Doctor service*, where you’re able to ask a doctor your questions at any time. 

Be proactive 
Being proactive to make sure that test results are reviewed and following up on appointments can help to prevent errors in a healthcare system that’s getting more and more complex. When patients are transferred between facilities, physicians or departments there is a possibility that important parts of information are being missed or delayed. It might not always be possible, but if you’re feeling up to it, keeping on top of what’s happening could help. If you’re travelling or spending time between different countries, it can be useful to keep a record of your medical history and any test results, in case another doctor needs them in the future. 

It can feel daunting to know that some conditions can go unnoticed or be mistaken for something else, but these are all things you can do to help avoid a misdiagnosis and can help you get on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.

Take a look at some of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions, here .

*The Virtual Doctor from AXA service is now available to all individual and SME members (excluding those whose health plan is insured by AXA General Insurance Hong Kong Limited). Access to the Virtual Doctor from AXA service is available for all Large Corporate groups who have not chosen the upgrade, until 30 September 2020. If you are unsure, please check with your AXA representative