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Think for a moment about the last time that you had an appointment with your family physician. Maybe it was for “flu-like” symptoms, or a persistent ache or pain. How much time did the doctor spend with you? The chances are, very little, and what's even more disturbing is that, statistically, he or she made your diagnosis in less than a minute, based not on tests and real data, but on an educated hunch.

In his best-seller, How Doctors Think, Dr. Jerome Groopman discusses the importance of redirecting your doctor's hasty diagnostics by interrupting his or her habitually immediate thought process by your asking specific questions to make him or her rethink the symptoms more openly: Doctor, besides your presumed diagnosis, what else could it be? Are there any symptoms that don't fit your diagnosis? Is it possible that it's more than one issue causing this? These are the questions, says Groopman, that we should be asking our doctors to get them thinking out of their preprogrammed hasty response mode, resulting in more-accurate diagnoses.

In the world of power wheelchair issues, I see many people – from consumers to providers to pros like me – jumping to singular diagnoses every day, and it truly does the repair process and consumers an injustice. Like Dr. Groopman says about medical diagnoses in the doctor's office, we, in the wheelchair world, need to likewise prevent ourselves from jumping to conclusions in diagnosing power wheelchair problems, and think broadminded.

Among the best examples of “singular diagnosis thinking” is seen on a power wheelchair having battery issues, where it held a charge fine one day, but not the next, going from a full charge to dead very quickly.

Now, if you read online forums, or even talk to field technicians, you'll get a lot of absolute, one-line diagnoses for such a suddenly-arisen battery issue: Your charger is bad.... Your batteries are bad.... You have loose connections.... Everyone in the peanut gallery will give you an absolute, singular answer, and often the consumer has his or her own set-in-stone theory, as well. Yet, in actuality, each singular answer has the potential of being wrong – namely because all of the above are potential causes, and randomly concluding one over the others is merely a shot in the dark.

Instead of running on a hunch or opinion, a truly mindful technician identifies all of the possible causes, then begins eliminating them, one-by-one, with inspection and diagnostics.

Interestingly, I had the exact above-described “charging” issue on my own power wheelchair, and rather than making snap judgments and throwing new parts at it, I made a literal written list of what could cause the symptoms:

1.Bad Charger
2.Bad Batteries
3.Loose Circuit Breaker Connections
4.Bad Connectors
5.Loose Battery Terminal Connections

Next, I simply started inspecting the power wheelchair, and checking off items on the list, from the easiest to hardest to accomplish. The charger recharged my other power wheelchair perfectly, so I checked the charger off as good. I visually inspected the power wheelchair's harnessing connectors, and they appeared clean and secure, so I marked them off of the list. I checked the circuit breaker connections and they were rock-solid secure, so I checked them off as A-OK. Then, I got to the batteries, where three terminal connections were totally tight, but the fourth was loose as a goose – bingo! I properly tightened the terminal, and the power wheelchair charged and ran like new.

What's striking about my example is that if one had run on the single conclusion of needing new batteries, it, too would have seemingly solved the problem (because one would have tightened the loose terminal connection when swapping batteries!) – but one would have unnecessarily spent several hundred dollars in the process, when all that was needed was a few turns of a wrench.

Just as running on a single hunch can misdiagnose, over-complicate, or delay a power wheelchair repair, so can fumbling through the process, drawing the conclusion of, I don't know what's wrong, so I'm going to just keep guessing in the hope that I get lucky and stumble upon a fix. No one should ever fumble through or guess at a power wheelchair diagnosis – there's no need to. Every manufacturer has on-call technical service support, where not only will a factory technician talk the provider's technician through diagnostics and repair on the spot at one's home, but illustrated parts diagrams and even software can also be downloaded via a computer in the field. Therefore, if you encounter a field technician who seems lost in the diagnosis and repair process, insist that he or she call the power wheelchair manufacturer's technical support line on the spot, getting real guidance in real time. Again, no field technician should ever fumble through a diagnosis or repair, as expert help is only a cell phone call away – insist that he or she calls technical support (as in, seeks an expert's opinion), when needed.

Indeed, there are parallels between diagnosing issues with our health and power wheelchairs: You have to self-advocate by resisting quick-draw conclusions, and insist on a “second opinion,” pulling in another expert, if there's any doubt. After all, it's your mobility at stake, so make sure that you're asking the right questions of the right people – and, most importantly, finding the right diagnosis.

Published 8/2010, Copyright 2010,