In a perfect world, a doctor could scan you and immediately know the correct diagnosis for your problem. However, doctors must collate investigate the causes of your symptoms. They use a systematic process to arrive at their conclusions. As part of the process, they may choose tests such as scanning by open MRI machine.

Diagnostic Differential

Doctors listen to your symptoms and generate a list of possible causes for those symptoms. Generally, these will be a short list of the most likely conditions. Chasing after “zebras,” or rare conditions, from the start wastes healthcare resources and your money. Doctors have data on which conditions are most prevalent in patients with similar age, sex, and history as you. They will decide on the most likely diagnosis order tests to confirm their suspicion. It is important to be honest and forthcoming with your doctor when he or she takes your case history. Do not challenge your doctor to read your mind or guess information. Your doctor can help you best with a complete picture of your symptoms and history.

Test Sensitivity and Specificity

Not every diagnosis requires a test. In addition, tests can be costly. Doctors and patients help to make sure that healthcare dollars are spent wisely by choosing to do tests that yield the most information. Tests have sensitivity data that indicate how likely it is that they will detect a particular disease. Specificity indicates the likelihood that a test will correctly determine that you do not have a disorder. False-positive results cause unnecessary treatment; false-negative results keep the doctor from correctly treating your case. Because doctors know that tests are not perfect, they will judge whether the test results make sense in the context of the entire clinical picture.

When working with your doctor to diagnose your condition, it is important to be open and honest. Ask your doctor questions to understand his or her diagnostic process. Understand that not all tests are appropriate for all conditions. In addition, tests are not perfect. However, many tests are invaluable in confirming a diagnosis.