A diagnostic odyssey

There’s a good Cases column in today’s New York Times (A Mystery Ailment, but not for the Right Doctor) about a patient with a mysteriously sore foot. He’d done his research on the web and sought out a tropical medicine expert (the author of the Times article) to test his theory that the problem was caused by a mosquito bite he got in India. To make a long story short, what he really needed was a bone and joint expert. Partly by luck he ended up seeing one and having his condition diagnosed properly.

If you already know your diagnosis –even if it’s for something obscure– it’s not hard to find good information about it on the web. But if you have only a collection of symptoms to go by, you’re in much tougher shape (even if you try your hand at Google diagnosing). It’s hard to even know what symptoms or other findings are relevant and what kind of physician to go to. You could go to one that causes more harm than good or ends up prescribing a medication that masks symptoms another doctor would need to make an accurate diagnosis, as happened in this case.

There is an answer to this problem: consumer-focused decision support tools that help patients figure out what kind of physician to see and what information to present. I predict you’ll be hearing more about this approach within the next year.

Note: the Times site was down so I’ve linked to the same article in another newspaper. 

February 28, 2007

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