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Unprofessional behavior leads to diagnostic mistakes

Spending time with your elderly parent may not be as easy as it used to be. Your mom or dad may use a lot of conversation time complaining about aches and pains, and this can be tiresome to hear. However, it should not be tiresome to a medical professional. If your loved one described symptoms to a Texas doctor who failed to give proper attention or take appropriate steps to diagnose the problem, your parent may have suffered needlessly.

Unfortunately, this situation occurs much too often. In fact, about 12 million patients suffer annually from diagnostic errors, and researchers are finding that the problem may begin early in the diagnostic process.

Dismissing important information

Diagnosing an illness takes many steps, from obtaining your health history to running tests and lab work. However, new research shows that many doctors fail from the first moments of the process. In a survey of patients who suffered from diagnostic errors, about half reported that their doctor was a poor communicator. More than seeing these as complaints of customer dissatisfaction, researchers noticed a connection between misdiagnosis and doctors who relate poorly to their patients. For example, your parent's doctor may have done any of the following:

  • Ignored your parent's complaints of specific symptoms or changes in overall health
  • Dismissed you when you expressed concerns about your parent's health
  • Mocked or condescended to you or your parent when he or she complained of health issues
  • Stereotyped your parent as a complainer or just another elderly person who is always feeling bad
  • Ignored your parent's questions altogether
  • Refused to return phone calls or messages from you or your parent

About 8 percent of the patients surveyed said their doctors intentionally misled them about their health condition or used fear to coerce them into having procedures, such as expensive surgeries, that they did not need.

Improving doctor-patient communication

The researchers suggest immediate changes in the way medical schools train doctors, including adding courses on communication skills and requiring physicians to receiving continuing education on professional conduct and patient relations. They also suggest that diagnostic errors should become part of hospital training programs to prevent them from happening again.

While these suggestions may benefit many in the long run, they may do little to help your loved one who suffered needlessly because of a doctor's carelessness and unprofessionalism. One way to impress on medical professionals the importance of attention to all steps of the diagnostic process is to hold them accountable for the mistakes they make. Seeking the guidance of an attorney is the first step in this process.

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