Ask These 2 Questions If Your Doctor Is Dismissing Your Concerns


As our nation's medical system braces for yet another COVID surge—this time with the added threat of the highly transmissible Omicron variant—those suffering from other conditions may find themselves receiving suboptimal care. It makes sense: Many doctors and nurses are overextended and under-resourced, stretched thin by the continued pandemic. If you're not in need of immediate intervention—or if your diagnosis isn't immediately clear—your doctor may put your case on the back burner.

However, experts say that you should never allow a doctor to ignore your symptoms if you are worried about something. That's why Dorender Dankwa, a fourth year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine, decided to spread some crucial advice in a now viral video on what to do when your doctor is dismissing your concerns. She says there are two key questions you should always ask your doctor if you feel you're not getting adequate care. Read on for Dankwa's ingenious advice, which is being reposted by medical professionals and celebrities alike.

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First, ask your doctor for their "differential diagnosis."

If you're struggling to get a doctor to take your concerns seriously, Dankwa advises advocating for yourself by asking two essential questions. She says that every doctor should have learned how to answer the first question as a beginner medical student—meaning if they can't or won't answer thoughtfully, it's time to find a new doctor.

"I want you to ask them, 'what is your differential diagnosis?'" says Dankwa. "This is where you catch them off guard because they weren't expecting you to know that word. It basically means, 'tell me all the other things that it could be.'"

By asking this question, she says, a doctor will need to consider and list out a broad range of possible causes for your symptoms. She recommends taking notes, both to gather information carefully and to signal to your doctor that you're invested in your medical wellbeing.

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Next, ask to hear the evidence for and against that differential diagnosis.

Once your doctor has shared a comprehensive list of possible diagnoses, Dankwa says it's time to ask a second question: "How have you ruled those other ones out?"

This, she says, will push your doctor to consider which evidence they have or haven't considered in giving you an explanation. By highlighting blind assumptions made in their assessment, they may be more willing to order further testing to look into possible causes. Another way Dankwa suggests framing the question is, "What's the evidence for and against that differential?"

Dankwa says self-advocacy is crucial to your health and wellbeing.

The doctor-in-training says that self-advocacy can make all the difference in your medical care. "The key to advocating for yourself is asking questions—lots of questions—and if they get mad at you, so be it. This is your life," she said in the now-famous video.

In the video's caption, she added that while everyone can benefit from more medical self-advocacy, bias and discrimination make it that much more important for racial minorities. "This advice is for anyone, but I will also note that people of color are more likely to be ignored in the clinical setting," she wrote. "If you are alone or unable to advocate for yourself, get a family member or friend on the phone to ask additional questions. Take notes, document what you can. You have every right to know exactly what is going on with your care," she urged her followers.

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Other experts are now sharing this urgent advice.

Dankwa's video went viral after it was shared by celebrities Viola Davis, D.L. Hughley, and more. But just as impressively, her words have sparked a bigger discussion among medical professionals about the power of these two questions.

For one, Tracy Ruscetti, PhD, a retired professor of microbiology who posts her own informational videos under the Tik Tok handle @scitimewithtracy, shared her response to Dankwa's video with her own 657K followers. "I just saw a video from a fourth year medical student and she gave the best advice to be your own advocate," she began. "That is to ask your doctor, 'What is your differential diagnosis, and how did you eliminate all of the other things that you say I am not suffering from?'"

Ruscetti then recalled her own experience of requesting a differential diagnosis while experiencing mysterious dizziness, a story she says demonstrates what expert care should look like when a diagnosis remains unclear. She shared that her doctor—who she refers to as the "Best. Doctor. Ever."—walked her through the four causes of vertigo, then explained the symptoms for each, comparing them with her own symptoms. One by one, with the help of additional testing, they came to mutual consensus that her symptoms didn't match three of the four explanations.

Though the final diagnosis still left some questions unanswered, Ruscetti says her doctor was able to give her a prognosis and relieve her symptoms based on what they had ruled out. "In that moment, I felt completely calm. I knew what I was facing, I knew what we didn't know about what was happening to me, I knew how we were ruling out the scarier things," she said. She concluded her message by urging patients to ask their doctors these two simple questions.

"If they can't tell you, walk out," she warned. "Get another doctor. Get a different opinion."

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