The inside scoop only a physician could tell you.

Medical privacy is very important in medicine and as doctors keep your problems confidential, they often also keep their problems a secret to the outside world.

Here are 5 secrets doctors don’t want to reveal and how knowing about them can protect you:

Secret # 1:

Doctors often order medical tests, but they sometimes forget to look at the test results or they overlook suspicious details.

An example is Mark who went to see his doctor for a productive cough for the last 3 weeks. His doctor ordered a chest X-Ray to rule out pneumonia.  The radiologist commented that Mark’s lungs were clear, that there was no pneumonia, but he noticed at the bottom of the X-Ray, a suspicious area in Mark’s liver. He recommended an abdominal CT scan. Mark’s doctor only paid attention to the fact that there was no pneumonia and told Mark not to worry.  He gave Mark a treatment of antibiotics which resolved Mark’s cough.  One year later, Mark came in his doctor’s office for abdominal pain.  An abdominal ultrasound revealed a large liver mass which turned out to be a metastasis from colon cancer.  The cancer was too advanced, and Mark couldn’t be saved.  This was unfortunate because Mark’s doctor could have kept Mark alive by reading the lung X-Ray report thoroughly and by ordering an abdominal CT scan one year prior while the liver metastasis was still small and cancer still treatable.

Similar cases are not infrequent: In 2009, L.P. Casilino (Cornell Medical College in NY) and colleagues found (Archives of Internal Medicine) that after reviewing the medical records of 5434 patients aged 50 to 69, physicians failed to inform patients 7.1% of the time.

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

Always request a copy of all your reports especially your blood test results and your radiology reports (plain X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc.).  Read the results yourself thoroughly and don’t be shy about asking your doctor questions if something seems abnormal.  If you have any doubt, run the results by another doctor to make sure that all that is abnormal is attended to.

Secret # 2:

Even the best doctor can make a mistake in treatment, prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong dose of the right medication.  This is especially true in hospitals.

Giampaolo P. Velo of Verona University Hospital in Italy writes in the 2009 British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology that medication errors are common in general practice and in hospitals.  Velo mentions in the article that the range of errors attributable to junior doctors can vary from 2 to 514 per 1000 prescriptions and from 4.2% to 82 % of patients.

Henriksen and colleagues describe that in Denmark in the first 6 months of 2014, there were 147 mistakes in the prescription of anticoagulants (most often the dose was too high).  Out of those 147 mistakes, 7 ended in the death of the patient (who most often bled to death) and 83 gave rise to serious problems.  Henriksen points out that most medications errors happen when there is a hospital admission, a hospital discharge, or surgery.

How can you prevent a medication mistake from happening to you?

Check with your pharmacist that the medication prescribed by your doctor is for your condition and that the dose prescribed is appropriate, especially if you are just discharged from a hospital.  If you have any doubt, don’t hesitate to give your physician a call or to get a second medical opinion.

Originally Published on Psychology Today

© Dr. Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

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