Permanence of Medical Diagnoses

Once you’ve been given a medical diagnosis, it’s managed to find a permanent home in your medical records. This is true even if you no longer even exhibit the symptoms of any particular diagnosis.

In the late 1990’s, I was suffering from periodic bouts of diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Consequently, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For a short period of time, I took a prescription to manage these symptoms.

Every time that I currently have a medical appointment, I ask for an after-visit patient summary. Even though a full twenty years have elapsed since I briefly struggled with IBS symptoms, this diagnosis continues to appear in my very lengthy list of medical diagnoses.

I’ve reminded my specialists that I no longer exhibit symptoms of IBS. Similarly, I struggled with having migraines, decades ago, as a teenager. Nevertheless, my list of chronic medical diagnoses continues to include migraines.

As a clinical health psychologist, I think that there should be more accurate specifiers for such types of diagnoses. For example, a condition’s diagnostic code should be modified to reflect if symptoms are currently active, versus in remission.

Given the stigmatization that continues to surround psychiatric diagnoses, this is a particularly important issue for mental health diagnoses. Someone who may have suffered from a brief, time-limited episode of anxiety and/or depression should not be characterized as having an enduring psychiatric disorder.

As a practicing psychologist, I am generally conservative in making a diagnostic determination, knowing that such diagnoses will be listed in patients’ medical records indefinitely.

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