What Is Differential Diagnosis?

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What Is Differential Diagnosis?

Differential Diagnosis is the process of determining a specific diagnosis by systematically comparing similar diagnoses.  Depending on items like medical history, symptoms, test results, own medical knowledge, and/or input from colleagues, doctors will usually come up with a handful of possible diagnoses for a particular condition.  After which, careful evaluation is done using the information available in an attempt to eliminate the other conditions and pinpoint the exact problem or cause.

During the evaluation process, interviews may be conducted on the patient and on the family members.  This will help doctors have a background on the patient’s social, family, and medical history.  It is during this part of the process that patients and family members should openly discuss the details of a particular illness, as doctors may miss out on something and may misunderstand the condition.  Medical test results are also very important for doctors, as these will provide actual and objective data on the patient’s condition.

Aside from doctors, the method of Differential Diagnosis is widely used by emergency medical service (EMS) staff as first responders to emergency cases. An EMS staff typically starts developing a differential diagnosis before arriving on a scene by using the information gathered by a dispatcher. Once on the scene, they then analyze and re-evaluate their differential diagnosis as needed.  Quick response is needed in every emergency situation, so EMS teams need to be highly-skilled to assess medical concerns quickly and responsibly.

So whether you’re a doctor attending to a patient or an EMS staff responding to an emergency situation, great care must be taken in assessing a patient’s condition.  For EMS teams, quick thinking and action is necessary to help patients.  As for doctors in hospitals, some may decide to start treatment with a ‘working diagnosis’ first.  This means the most probable cause of a patient’s condition becomes the basis for initial treatment.  If there is no improvement on the patient’s condition, the doctor will re-evaluate and may start the whole process of differential diagnosis again.

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