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The Wise Patient's Guide to Being Newly Diagnosed

10 Steps to Confirm Your Diagnosis and Prepare for Treatment


Updated September 18, 2008

Few things in life strike fear in our hearts the way a difficult diagnosis does. Once you've caught your breath, and decided it's time to empower yourself, there are a number of steps a newly diagnosed patient can take to understand the new diagnosis, confirm it, study treatment options, then begin the process required to beat it.

1. Acknowledge Your Fear

Those who have suffered through the words "tumor," or "life threatening," or any other adjective that goes along with a terrifying diagnosis understand fear. Talk to anyone who has suffered through a life-altering diagnosis and this is what they will tell you, "The doctor gave me that diagnosis, and I was so stunned, I didn't hear anything she told me after that."

By acknowledging your fear, you are facing it. Facing it begins to give you some of the strength you will need to learn about it. And learning about it will help you begin to conquer it.

Empowered patients understand that fear is a part of the process. Overcoming the fear helps us feel more powerful over our diagnosis.

2. Find an Advocate

Finding someone to assist you with the tasks you'll undertake to manage the learning and decision making processes in front of you, will be a big help.

3. Understand Your Role and Responsibility

An empowered patient understands that decision making is her responsibility, and that she is a major participant on her own healthcare team.

4. Get Organized

From starting a journal and recording symptoms and triggers, to getting copies of your medical test results and comparing them to information you track down on the Internet, you'll need a system for staying organized while you learn all you can about your disease or condition.

5. Develop Your "Patientude"

Patientude is an attitude that exudes confidence and commands respect. It's an absolute necessity when it comes to communicating with other members of your healthcare team. It's the attitude that you deserve only the best care, and you'll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

6. Trust Your Intuition

Because you know your body better than anyone else does, and because you may be able to hear that little voice inside that guides you, learning to trust that little voice can help you make some of the important decisions ahead of you.

7. Double Check Your Records Including Test Results

Attempting to read your medical records, using medical dictionaries or library or Internet resources, will provide you with a deeper understanding of what is wrong with you. Further, you'll want to correct any errors in your records which may have an impact on your true diagnosis.

An empowered patient also understands the privacy and security rules and regulations that affect how she obtains her medical records.

8. Ask Your Doctor "What Else Can it Be?"

Wise patients know that doctors use a process called "differential diagnosis" to arrive at the right answer for a patient. DDx is a process of elimination of alternate diagnoses. Asking about the eliminated answers may help you learn more about what's really wrong with you, and will help make sure your diagnosis is correct.

9. Seek a Second Opinion

If your diagnosis is at all life-threatening, or if it will require treatment that is at all invasive, including surgeries or difficult drug regimens, a second opinion is a must. And if those two opinions don't agree? You may need a third. This step will also help confirm you have not been misdiagnosed.

10. Begin Researching Your Treatment Options

Once you are confident your diagnosis is correct, you'll need to know about all available treatment options, set your goals for your treatment, then work with your provider to make those decisions about your treatment.

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