Friday Film: ‘Diagnosis’ On Netflix Explores Medical Mysteries

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In the age of smart technology, people experiencing the onset of disease have countless resources at their fingertips. But for those who face “medical mysteries,” there are no answers to be found online or in clinics. In Diagnosis, a new Netflix docu-series, physician and New York Times columnist Dr. Lisa Sanders uses the power of written word, inquiry and the internet to connect the dots for people with undiagnosed and mysterious medical conditions.

“Getting the right diagnosis is the most important thing you can do for a patient. You’ll never get the treatment right if you don’t have the right diagnosis.” - Dr. Lisa Sanders

The first episode introduces Angel, a 23-year-old nursing student who has episodes of chronic muscle pain that leave her debilitated. A former athlete, Angel led a normal life with dreams of starting a family. Now, she is determined to find out if her disease is hereditary before having children. Lab tests for autoimmune and metabolic disorders have returned as negative, leaving her case a mystery to general practitioners and specialists.

Dr. Sanders published a column in the New York Times outlining Angel’s symptoms. It included a video of Angel explaining the timeline of events since the onset of her disease. A form was placed at the bottom of the column opening suggestions for a diagnosis to be submitted via writing and video.

“One of the tools that doctors use are the other doctors in the room. And whether you’re going to get a diagnosis or not really depends on who is in that room and who might see something that they recognize and understand and then identify. So what we’re doing is just making the room that much bigger.” - Dr. Lisa Sanders

Response forms for the show are accepted from all over the world. For Angel, the response that resonated most came from a doctor in Italy whose clinic specializes in metabolic disorders. Angel traveled to Italy to receive testing and analysis from their perspective.

“Not knowing is the scariest thing in the world. I can deal with the pain, I can live, but not knowing is what’s holding me back.” - Angel

Other cases in the docu-series include a 7-year-old with a brain disorder, a man who loses his memory and experiences severe mood disorders and a young man who has heart-stopping fainting spells. All stories highlight those experiencing extreme realities of health problems with no answer to what is causing their symptoms.

Diagnosis gives a voice to those who have long suffered pain and confusion while seeking answers as to why. With the power of crowdsourcing, these patients may get closer to and even find their long-awaited diagnosis.

Tess Francke

Tess Francke is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist who has spent her career at the intersection of media, writing, design and health research. You will find her other byline in the National Foundation for Cancer Research blog and Research to Remission quarterly oncology magazine. She is a proud Detroit native with the mission is to facilitate the vital connection between populations and health information. She loves teaching fitness classes and her daily yoga practice.

Originally published at on October 7, 2019.

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