How Do I Get a Medical Diagnosis?

A medical diagnosis is needed to establish the condition that is causing a person's signs and symptoms, and also to determine the necessary treatment.
A medical diagnosis is needed to establish the condition that is causing a person’s signs and symptoms, and also to determine the necessary treatment.

A diagnosis is typically obtained by a doctor or other healthcare provider and usually begins with a physical examination and an exploration of the patient’s history. From there, tests and other diagnostic procedures are recommended in order to determine the underlying illness or injury that is causing the symptoms. 

In some cases, obtaining a medical diagnosis can be a challenge, due to signs and symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, or skin redness, that are non-specific, meaning, they can be symptoms of a number of different disorders and it can make it difficult to know the true cause.

What Can a Patient Do to Help Get a Diagnosis?

Patients can be proactive in their own medical care. There are some steps that can be taken to help assist medical professionals in determining a diagnosis. 

  • Communicate clearly with your doctors and other healthcare providers 
  • Provide complete information
  • Bring any medical records you have
  • Write down your symptoms beforehand
  • List past medical history such as illnesses and surgeries
  • Note any relevant family medical history such as heart disease or cancer
  • Note all medications 
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about symptoms you may find embarrassing

Ask questions

  • Come prepared with a list of questions
  • If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification
  • Review all instructions to make sure you are clear on the next steps or medications to take

Take notes

  • Review the notes to see if you have any questions later
  • Notes also help to share information with loved ones who may also have questions or observations

Bring someone with you

  • If you are comfortable, bring a family member or friend for support 
  • Family members or friends may also have observations or questions that can help aid in diagnosis or understanding 
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with the doctor, it’s ok to seek another opinion
  • You need to have a medical professional you feel comfortable with 
  • If a doctor ignores your questions or information, if they do not explain tests or medications, they may not be the right doctor to help figure out your diagnosis
  • If a doctor dismisses your concerns as “all in your head,” that may be a sign you need to change doctors 
  • If your condition worsens despite treatment, it may be time to see another doctor
  • If you are at all uncomfortable, it may be a sign you need to find another doctor

Make sure you follow-up

  • It’s common to have questions after an appointment has ended
  • Make another appointment or call or email the doctor or other member of the staff to ask questions
  • Reach out to check on any test results
  • Tell your healthcare provider if any symptoms worsen
  • If any test results are surprising, ask questions
  • Sometimes lab tests are contaminated or imaging tests are not calibrated or patient results are mixed up
  • If your results do not make any sense based on your symptoms and what you have discussed with your doctor, double-check that everything was processed properly or to see if you may need to be re-tested 
  • Understand that sometimes doctors won’t have answers quickly or at all
  • It is better for a doctor to say they don’t know than to give an inaccurate diagnosis just for the sake of placating a patient
  • Ask for a referral to a specialist