The unfortunate truth is, doctors make mistakes. But that’s not the only reason you should always get a second opinion. Two doctors may give very different approaches to the same thing, with one being more conservative and the other, more aggressive. Some doctors just have more knowledge about specific treatments than others, especially if they work at honor-roll hospitals. That means asking for a second opinion should actually be a routine practice.
A Mayo Clinic study showed in 2017 that only 12% of initial diagnoses were complete and correct. Even if the first diagnosis is confirmed by the second doctor, you will be reassured with the peace of mind from knowing that your problem has been correctly identified and your treatment plan is the most adequate.
There are many valid reasons to get a second opinion. Most studies show a clear benefit of second opinions that largely outweigh the price paid (knowing that some insurances even cover second opinions). It brings an advantage to 88% of people asking a second opinion as only 12% of diagnoses remain unchanged. What’s more, it can avoid painful, risky and life-threatening treatments and it can even save your life! The most common reasons for getting a second opinion include:
1. Doubts about your doctor
2. Securing the diagnosis or the treatment
3. Lack of results
4. Your disease is particularly severe
Mayo Clinic published in 2017 a study about patients seeking a second opinion or diagnosis confirmation before treatment for a complex condition showing that “as many as 88 percent of those patients go home with a new or refined diagnosis — changing their care plan and potentially their lives. Conversely, only 12 percent receive confirmation that the original diagnosis was complete and correct”
Why is it so bad? There are many reasons that all add to each other.
Some factors come from your doctor. Doctors are human and make mistakes like others. Unfortunately, it is often not seen as acceptable for your doctor to tell you, “I don’t know” and that pushes him or her to decide which treatment you need even if he or she is not 100% sure. Also, medicine has become increasingly complex in the last 20 years with the knowledge to record getting even bigger than before.
Some factors come from the US healthcare. Except for some very ethical clinics (like the 3 Mayo Clinics), there is often a drive to increase profit in the US healthcare system. It might be the leading physician of a practice adding pressure to his fellow physicians to increase income.
It can also be pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to prescribe a treatment that might not be the best possible one. It is often the fear of the physician not to do every possible test that would avoid a lawsuit in case of complications rather than concentrating on what is best for his patient. Always more, we also see restrictions due to cost containment measures in a health care environment with ever-increasing costs that can result in a suboptimal diagnosis or treatment by limiting the possibility for your physician to refer you to the best specialist if he is out-of-network.
Despite a recent study showing that medical errors account for the third leading cause of deaths in the US, little is done to actively detect diagnostic errors and improve the medical quality. In some hospitals, errors are not used to improve their processes in order to avoid them later. Errors might be hidden because of the fear of their consequences. It has to be feared that medical errors and the need for a second opinion can only increase in the coming years due to the increasing complexity of medicine.
Some factors come from the patient. Pressure can be coming from the patient to avoid a certain type of treatment or to be prescribed a pill that might not be the most adequate.
Our quality comes from the fact that our company has been founded and is still managed by a medical doctor with 25+ years of experience. We know what patients need and how to provide it. Here are the 5 points you’ll need to make the most of your 2nd opinion:
Do you need to inform your current physician about your need for a second opinion? The answer depends a lot on the doctor and your relationship with him. In theory, a doctor only focuses on his patient’s best interests. This would mean that if the patient feels better by asking for a second opinion, he should not only accept it but also help you. In our experience, unfortunately, only a minority of doctors react this way. Most doctors don’t like that their patients ask for a second opinion and feel that it is a sign of mistrust about their competence.
However, we do believe that, at least in some cases, it is better to at least inform your doctor about your procedure. You will anyway need to get your medical record from him and that can speed up the process. Our experience has shown us that, by explaining why you need a second opinion and asking the doctor what he would do if he were in your situation usually helps. Some doctors even help you by giving you references and even facilitating and speeding up the contact with another physician. We know that most patients won’t be comfortable telling their physician that they are going to ask a second opinion. Especially in this case, we can help gather your medical records if you don’t have a personal copy.
However, we always warn our patients to avoid asking a second opinion to a doctor who knows your current doctor. It is usually better to ask a second opinion in another institution or sometimes even in another state as a strong solidarity exists between physicians and it is unusual to have a second doctor dare to criticize his colleague if he knows him. Also, habits may vary strongly from one hospital to another, allowing the second hospital to use different methods that might have an advantage for you. Telemedicine (remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology) has improved the ways to get second opinions from hospitals away from your location even while staying at home and by simply sending your medical record.
Where do you go for a second opinion? Who do you ask? For a second opinion, do you need a real expert on your disease? We have 25+ year experience in medicine and a lot of these years have been focused on finding world-class specialists. Fortunately, the United States provides some of the best hospitals and doctors in the world. Usually excellent hospitals attract excellent doctors but, as always in all human groups, some of them are better for your case than others. It is our task to identify the one who best fits your needs. At this stage, it will be important to know if your insurance covers 2nd opinions. If it is not covered or if the choice is limited to certain providers (which might not be the best), you might want to discuss other options with us.
We also know that it is not only a competent doctor that you need but also someone who uses the best available technology, has a lot of experience, is organized enough not to forget your demand or to send his opinion/give you an appointment in 6 months when you need it NOW. If he/she is also nice and human, it is of course very valuable as it usually eases everything when your psychology might be very in a bad shape.
We have enough weight to speed up the process and helps you gain a lot of time. Most second opinion doctors are usually happy to have us involved in the loop as they know that we will prepare you well and that the consultation will be more efficient than if you come alone. We will help you in gathering all your medical files and prepare a summary of your case.
Basically, a second opinion can end up giving two different results:
a) ask the 2 physicians to discuss together to see if they can come to a common diagnosis and treatment plan
b) ask the 2 physicians how they arrive to their conclusions (and see if they based their decision on evidence-based medicine, which is to say the decision is based on medical studies coming to the same conclusion) and see, then which doctors seems to have followed the most scientific way to establish his opinion. If the second physician is an expert in his field (nationwide or even a world-class expert), his opinion will have usually more value. If you are not a medical doctor yourself, you will need our help to establish which opinion is the right one in the proper medical context.
c) ask a third opinion and see which one it confirms.
We will always discuss these options with you and help you come to an informed decision.