How I Saved a Life With Diagnostic Questioning

You can adapt this pattern of questioning to virtually any situation to determine what’s wrong and why.

Dr. Ari Zelmanow
Jul 27 · 5 min read
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Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

Anybody can use diagnostic questioning to get to the root cause of a problem.

In asking diagnostic questions, listen closely to words used to describe the problem and its symptoms, when the problem occurs, and actions that connect to it or seem to cause it.

The devil is in the details.

In the case above, I followed an algorithm to guide my inquiry. In the emergency medical services professional, everything starts with the ABCs — airway, breathing, and circulation.

  • Was he breathing?
  • Was his heart beating?

Step 1. Before you can fix a problem, you need to know what it is.

For example, if the airway is blocked, and I don’t diagnose it appropriately, you can’t get oxygen to your patient and they die. In short, failure to identify the problem equates to certain death.

“What’s going on here?”

A corollary to this is, “what’s the matter?”

Step 2. Explore the history of the problem.

After you understand the present, it is time to explore the history of the problem.

Step 3. What are you missing?

In medicine, there is a saying:

“How do you know?”

A bonus trick is to ask someone to quantify their level of certainty with a bet, i.e. “would you bet your life on it?”

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Credit: Giphy (https://giphy.com/gifs/pokerstars-poker-all-in-allin-EQBsWLfdxHW01Y1OHK)

Step 4. Check your work.

Once you have diagnosed the problem, it’s time to check your work.

I asked diagnostic questions, identified the problem, and saved a life.

My patient was in cardiac arrest (his heart had stopped). I used a defibrillator to restart his heart and transported him to the hospital.

Thanks to Zulie Rane

Dr. Ari Zelmanow

Written by

I make a living asking and answering questions | Currently @Panasonic | Previously @Twitter | Defender of truth, justice, and NY Pizza | www.grok.ink

Dr. Ari Zelmanow

Written by

I make a living asking and answering questions | Currently @Panasonic | Previously @Twitter | Defender of truth, justice, and NY Pizza | www.grok.ink

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