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Helpful Tips To Avoid Getting A Misdiagnosis

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Health experts say patients can play a big role in their own diagnosis when meeting with a doctor. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

New York City resident Julian Morello, 20, went to the emergency room after suffering a series of intense headaches.

"You want to jam your finger just so you can get the pain away from your head. It's a horrible feeling," Morello said.

He was sent home with pain medication and a diagnosis of cluster headaches. But the pain returned, and Morello went back to the same emergency room for a second and third time. His diagnosis was unchanged, so he and and his family decided to go to another hospital where Morello was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

"They said it was really serious. They said, 'You're going to be here for a while,'" Morello recalled.

Morello's story is one of many.

"The American Journal of Medicine says that as many as 15 percent of people have the wrong diagnosis. The New England Medical Journal reported that 35 percent of doctors said there were errors in either the care of themselves or a family member. It is a big problem," said Best Doctors President Evan Falchuk.

Falchuk adds patients can take steps to avoid a misdiagnosis. The first step: Ask plenty of questions.

"The more you can engage in a conversation about your care, the more you can get your doctor to think about you and to use all that education and knowledge and insight that he or she has to make a good decision about your care," Falchuk said.

If you're not satisfied, get a second opinion -- an option covered by many, but not all insurance plans.

"Don't say, 'Hey I was told I've been diagnosed with the following condition. But instead say, 'Here are my symptoms, what are we dealing with?' You want that second doctor to think through your case as if this was the first time anyone is giving you diagnosis, so you can really take advantage of that doctor's insight and judgement," Falchuk recommended.

Also, be up-to-date on your personal and family medical history.

"The Surgeon General on the Internet has a very nice tool where you can fill in your family medical history, almost like creating your own family tree except medical," Falchuck said.

Looking back, Morello offered one more bit of advice: Follow your instinct.

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