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False results: Are medical tests really reliable?

When physicians diagnose patients with a condition, they often order a screening test to help them determine whether or not the condition exists. Doctors rely on these tests to provide accurate information, which will ultimately help them provide the right diagnosis to their patients. According to researchers from the National Institutes of Health, however, false positives and false negatives can occur, which may cause doctors to misdiagnose patients or fail to provide a diagnosis at all.  

False positives indicate that the patient has a condition, when in all actuality, they do not, according to ScienceBasedMedicine.org. For example, a person may receive a false positive on a screening test used to diagnose skin cancer, but they do not actually have the disease. On the other hand, a false negative may report that a patient does not have a condition, when they actually do. This may cause serious patient harm, as the untreated condition could worsen to a point where it may become fatal or severely injure the patient.

In some cases, the tests may come back with readings that require the doctor make decisions regarding the reading. For instance, if a test comes back with inconclusive results, the physician may have to take into consideration all of the other variables and make a diagnostic decision. They may also choose to order a different test or the screening to be conducted a second time.

You as the patient can partner with your physician in order to minimize your risk of being misdiagnosed. Prior to taking the test, make sure that you carefully follow all of the directions, such as fasting or avoiding certain medications. Ask for a copy of the results of your test, and do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

This information is for educational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice. 

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