How to Get the Right Diagnosis

Ask lots of questions… get those questions here!

Little known fact: about 1 in 20 diagnoses is incorrect.


    • There are only about 200-300 symptoms and 10,000 diseases!
    • Naturally, doctors tend to view symptoms through the filters of their specialized  training. All of us have filters of various kinds from our life experiences and education, so this is pretty understandable. 

Two good reasons for lots of questions and 2nd opinions.

1.  Patients often worry that they will offend their doctor if they get a second  opinion. But here’s the truth: good doctors encourage their patients to collect as much information as they can. They know the more information, the better any health care decision.

2.  Getting the right diagnosis is often like solving a mystery, and it’s really up to the patient and their Care Partner to dig for clues and answers.

This is a lot to absorb, isn’t it?  But That’s just another reason why family members and friends are so valuable as Care Partners on the path to diagnosis and treatment options that are right for each patient.

Ask questions…lots of questions!

  • What’s my diagnosis? (What is my problem? What do I have?)   Ask for the “medical name”, and then for a “regular way” to describe it.  (Note: you can use both to dig for info on the Internet later, or in conversations with other doctors when you get a 2nd opinion.)
    • What else could it be?
    • Anything else?
  • How serious is this condition? On a 1-5 scale with “1”being “No worries, easy to treat/cure/live with” and a “5” meaning it’s life threatening and must be treated immediately.”
    • Why? What is your reasoning?
  • How would you treat me for this condition?
  • What other ways are used to treat this condition?
  • What are the benefits of each way to treat this condition?
  • What are the risks or complications for each way to treat my condition?
    • How common are the risks and complications?
    • What are the immediate, medium-term, and long-term side effects?
  • Are there other discomforts associated with the treatments?
    • Are these permanent or temporary?
    • How can these discomforts be treated?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • How long before I can get back to my normal activities?
  • What are my costs?
  • If surgery is recommended, ask more! 

And Keep Asking!

  • Talk to as many doctors as needed to feel comfortable with a treatment plan and surgeon that feels right.
  • Still having trouble understanding your condition and treatment options? That’s common! Health care is complicated so don’t hesitate to ask your doctors for more of their time and help. You may want to consider talking to a professional patient advocate, too.
  • It’s OK for patients to refuse treatment at any time, for any reason… even up until the last minute.

Take Good Notes!

  • There are a lot of details to cover! Patients need a Care Partner with them at every appointment to take notes or record conversations (most cell phones have this feature). Informed and pro-active Care Partners are a must for every hospital treatment – whether for Emergency Room care, outpatient surgery or inpatient care.
  • To help meetings with doctors go more quickly, download and print this list of questions and bring so everyone will be “on the same page” – a great way to start the conversation!

More tips?

Sign up for our newsletter! 

No fluff.  Just quick, simple tips for getting good health care.