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Health Beat: When doctors don't listen

When Doctors Don't Listen

WASHINGTON - You've heard people talk about the elevator speech as an effective strategy to grab the attention of a prospective employer. Well, using that strategy with your doctor can save your life. Emergency room insiders share their advice on how to make sure your doctor is really paying attention to your medical needs.

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

"It's so easy for doctors to order a test, like a cat scan, 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 Dr. Leana Wen, author of When Doctors Don't Listen.

In the book, Wen and Dr. Josh Kosowsky spell out critical mistakes doctors and patients often make when they fail to communicate.

"Telling the doctors all of your symptoms is very important," said Nancy Graham, a patient.

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

"Eighty percent of your diagnosis can be made just based on your history," Wen 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," Kosowsky said.

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 the bed to the bathroom without getting very short of breathe.' 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 has impacted their life," Wen explained.

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, get a new doctor.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW medical blueprint

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Allentown, PA 18102


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