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Docs Don't Listen

p_Qr-B8fHUMHaving lived through her mother’s long struggle with cancer, Dr. Leana Wen, author of When Doctors Don’t Listen, understands medicine from both sides of the bed. She’s made it her mission to help patients avoid misdiagnoses and unnecessary tests by teaching them to be better advocates for themselves.

Dr. Wen explains that unfortunately, many doctors don’t take the time to really listen to their patients. She says studies show that doctors interrupt patients an average of 10-12 seconds after they start speaking, allowing little time for the patient to tell his or her story. This can lead to “cookbook medicine,” when a doctor practices according to a recipe or checklist, rather than tailoring the therapy to the individual patient.

Some of Dr. Wen’s pillars for getting a better diagnosis include:

►Tell Your Whole Story: Eighty percent of a diagnosis can be made just based on the patient’s story. She advises patients to start with a high impact statement. For example, “My headache was so bad that I couldn’t go to work for three days.” Then proceed to tell your story in chronological order to help maintain focus.

 ►Assert Yourself in the Doctor’s Thought Process: Dr. Wen advises, “Ask the doctor, ‘based on what you’ve heard so far, what is it that you’re thinking about?’ Trying to engage your doctor in that conversation early on will help ensure that the doctor is hearing the parts of your story that are correct.”

►Partner for the Decision-Making Process: Patients are the experts on their own body and doctors are the medical experts. By working together they can come up with the most accurate diagnosis.

►Apply Tests Rationally: Dr. Wen says studies show that 30 percent of all tests done are unnecessary and every test has side effects. Patients should be aware of the risks before having a test performed and determine if it’s really needed. Is waiting an option? And how will the test change a patient’s management of a condition? If not at all, why do it?

►Integrate Diagnosis into the Healing Process: Knowing what you have is the first and most critical part of healing. Patients should ask doctors for a diagnosis—even if it’s uncertain—so they can work together to figure out next steps.

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