Q: My husband went to the emergency room for shortness of breath, and they sent him home, saying it was a result of his weight. Four hours later, we had to call an ambulance. He almost died - of an asthma attack! How can this happen?
MARY M., Nashville, Tenn.
A: Let us assure you that everyone in the health care field is working to prevent such mistakes. But misdiagnosis a persistent problem: A new report says 39 percent of U.S. malpractice payments are for nondiagnosis or an incorrect or delayed one. And of all medical mistakes, diagnostic errors appear to be the most common, most costly and most dangerous.
On the health care providers' part, missed diagnoses can come from fragmented medical records, overworked doctors, errors in pathology interpretations and lack of individualization of procedures and tests.
Patients contribute to the problem, too: You may fail to clearly communicate symptoms or not mention your family disease history. And obesity further compounds the problem. Asthma symptoms often appear like breathlessness associated with excess weight. One study showed that one-third of obese folks who had asthma were misdiagnosed. Obesity also can make MRIs and scans inconclusive.
But misdiagnosis happens to people of all ages, weights, backgrounds and afflictions. Here's what you can do:
1. Be sure to ask what else it could be. And why did you rule that out?
2. Show up with a short list of questions, then speak up.
3. Always call for lab results; don't wait for the doc to get back to you.
4. Share your medical info with all your doctors, and get them talking.
5. Get a second opinion. No good doctor should object to that.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.