Finding the way forward
On the challenging path of disease management, the diagnostic stage represents a kind of gateway. Only after a specific disease condition is identified, confirmed and given a medical diagnosis is it then possible to keep moving forward, addressing questions of patient prognosis, treatment options and monitoring strategies.
These are the elements that can, depending on various factors, significantly reduce mortality risk and improve quality of life and well-being for affected individuals.
Defined most simply, medical diagnosis means observing the signs and symptoms presented by a patient and determining which disease or condition is causing them.
The process can be straightforward in cases where a symptom or set of symptoms corresponds unambiguously to a single condition. The appearance of a distinct “bullseye” rash on the skin, for instance, is all a medical professional needs to make a confident diagnosis of Lyme disease. More commonly, however, making a definitive diagnosis is complicated by nonspecific symptoms that could apply to multiple conditions.
A process of differential diagnosis is then used to narrow the possibilities by considering additional clinical patterns and patient information and, often, analyzing the results of further tests until one diagnosis of highest likelihood emerges from among all other candidates.
Among the many medical diagnostic types, two represent what typically comes to mind when we hear the term “diagnosis”:
- Clinical diagnosis, which refers to diagnoses made from physical patient examination and self-reported symptoms
- Laboratory diagnosis, which is made based on test results and laboratory reports.
For the latter type especially, accuracy and reliability are paramount. Any laboratory environment where in vitro diagnostic tests are performed must be furnished with high-quality instruments kept in excellent shape and operated by conscientious, well-trained personnel.
The stakes are extremely high where diagnosis of human disease is concerned, and lab devices used for this purpose are generally held to much higher regulatory standards than instruments used in non-clinical research settings
With medical diagnostics now so advanced, and the cost of missteps so steep — in both dollars and lives — it’s clear that the science of diagnosis is, and will continue to be, a pillar of special importance in the larger framework of disease management.