Diagnostic accuracy declines significantly when physicians are faced with "difficult patients," regardless of amount of time spent or case complexity, new research shows.
Two studies conducted by researchers showed that physicians were much more likely to misdiagnose "difficult patients," defined as those who engage in disruptive behaviors, questioning doctors competence or are rude , in comparison with patients who engage in neutral, or nondisrupitve, behaviors, regardless of case complexity.
For those with the misfortune to fear they are in the grip of a serious illness, there is a new tactic to significantly improve the chances of survival - be very polite to the doctor.
Researchers established that the likelihood of misdiagnosis rose by 42 per cent when doctors were confronted with a demanding patient exhibiting a set of complex symptoms, as opposed to a polite individual with an identical complaint.
The risk of misdiagnosis fell to just six per cent when dealing with more straightforward cases. But those who carried out the study said their findings were so stark that doctors should now be trained to challenge their own emotions when dealing with disruptive patients to avoid diagnostic mishaps.
The head of the study said: “Many clinicians have seen their interest turn into impatience by frequent attenders with vague complaints, repeated interruptions during a consultation or insistence in requesting unnecessary tests.
“Most doctors would, however, tend to deny that these feelings influence their judgments… The fact is that difficult patients trigger reactions that may intrude with reasoning, adversely affect judgments and cause errors.”
But giving benefit of doubt to the study, it is in patient’s interest to show politeness and co-operate with the doctor, lest you are misdiagnosed and put on unnecessary treatment.