Talking to Your Doctor: When Doctors Don't Listen

November 9, 2013

A trip to the emergency room can be scary, but a misdiagnosis can be deadly.

In their new book "When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses," ER doctors Leana Wen and Joshua Kosowsky spell out critical mistakes doctors and patients often make when they fail to communicate.

"It's so easy for doctors to order a test, like a CAT scan or an MRI or blood tests, but it's really important to know why every test is done and what the diagnosis is in advance," said ER Dr. Leana Wen.

Symptoms are important, but Wen says a patient's history can be even more valuable.

"Eighty-percent of diagnoses can be made just based on your history," she said.

Since you know your time with a doctor is limited, you have to grab their full attention in the first 10 seconds.

"Doctors are not listening to their patients. They're hearing the words they say, but they are not really listening," said Kosowsky.

To get them to really listen, doctors suggest practicing your high-impact story.

"For example, 'I've been so short of breathe that I can't walk from my bed to the bathroom without getting very short of breath.' That really gets the doctor's attention. And then, it should have a couple of short sentences that talk about how they got to where they are, and how it's impacted their life," said Wen.

The added details could prevent a misdiagnosis and unnecessary and potentially dangerous testing.

The doctors suggest practicing your story at home, even having it on paper. If your doctor still doesn't listen, it may be time to get a new doctor.

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