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Another Opinion Averted Surgery

Q. Years ago, when my brother was nineteen years old, he went to his physician for a routine checkup. The doctor told my brother that he needed surgery and referred my brother to a surgeon. That doctor told my brother (without any tests) that he had testicular cancer and that he needed surgery to remove his testicles as soon as possible. Needless to say, my brother was upset about this diagnosis and the prospect of surgery.

My father decided to take my brother to another physician, one who did not know the first two. This doctor examined my brother and told him that he definitely did not have cancer. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him.

The last physician was correct. My brother eventually got married. He and my sister-in-law became the proud parents of three children, and he is now in his fifties. Just think what would have happened if my father had not insisted on a third opinion!

A. Diagnostic mistakes are far more common than most people imagine. Some experts have estimated that as many as 15 percent of diagnoses are in error (American Journal of Medicine, May, 2008).

Your brother was fortunate to get an objective third opinion. We discuss the most common types of misdiagnoses and the top 10 questions patients should ask to avoid a diagnostic disaster in our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them (online at PeoplesPharmacy.com).

Overconfidence and failure to recognize drug side effects are among the leading reasons for diagnostic errors. Patients must be vigilant to avert potentially deadly mistakes.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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