Getting a correct diagnosis from the start can be a matter of life or death.
We take extra time to be sure we have the correct diagnosis. Some estimate that as many as 100,000 people die from medical errors in America each year! One major factor in this tragedy is Misdiagnosis (http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9728&page=26). Even in the field of mental health, an incorrect diagnosis can be life threatening. For example, severe anxiety is a significant risk factor for suicide. If the anxiety is not recognized and addressed by the therapist, then the outcome can be fatal.
Misdiagnosis has other costs:
1. Getting the wrong treatment which may be inneffective,
2. Having wasted your time,
3. Having wasted money and other resources,
4. Having the wrong diagnosis on your medical records for years or even a lifetime,
5. Being exposed to therapies that may have harmful side effects and that were otherwise unnecessary,
6. Untreated symptoms getting worse or causing other problems.
There are many factors that may lead to Misdiagnosis in the field of Mental Health, some may include:
1. Poor Assessment Procedures by the Therapist,
2. The client or patient not providing accurate and honest information,
3. Cultural or Language barriers between the client and therapist,
4. Lack of knowledge or poor analytical skills of the therapist,
5. Self-diagnosis by the client or client's family members and a refusal to consider other diagnosis,
6. Therapist may only know common disorders and not consider other possibilities,
7. Therapist not seeking more tests or information,
8. Client refusing to get more tests or provide more information,
9. Lack of time by either the therapist or client,
10. A bias by the therapist towards a certain diagnosis or away from another diagnosis,
11. Over-publicized disorders where less common diseases are overlooked,
12. Difficulty in understanding the extent, nature or severity of certain symptoms.
How can you help prevent Misdiagnosis?
I once had a client tell me that her psychiatrist said that he could make a diagnosis "in five minutes." Anyone can make a diagnosis in five minutes, but I guarantee you that no one can make a correct diagnosis in five minutes outside of luck. Making a correct Diagnosis takes time and skill and there are no shortcuts.
You can help make the process more accurate by doing the following:
1. Take your time filling out questionnaires,
2. Offering more information is better than less,
3. Be sure to let your therapist know if you feel that you have been misunderstood,
4. Be honest and open about the problem or problems that you are dealing with,
5. Take some time to prepare for your initial meeting by reviewing your reasons for coming to therapy, what you hope to get out of therapy, and what symptoms or stressors your are dealing with,
6. Take some time to go over your personal and family history so that you can accurately answer questions about substance use/abuse, mental health problems, violence, trauma, and other developmental issues, if any,
7. Be sure to continue to share information throughout the treatment process,
8. Be open to involving family members if requested by your therapist,
9. Be sure to promptly follow-up with any requested medical tests,
10. Consent to share information with other providers, like a former therapist or your doctor.