When to Seek a Second Medical Opinion
When medical issues are complex, the stakes can be incredibly high. Patients are understandably stressed and need the peace of mind that comes from feeling confident about their course of treatment. That’s where second medical opinions come into play.
If you consider that other major decisions – like buying a house or a car – are made only after considering many options, it’s obvious why obtaining a second medical opinion makes perfect sense when facing a surgery or complex treatment.
In 2017, a Mayo Clinic study showed that 21% of patients who sought a second opinion left with a completely new diagnosis, and 66% were deemed partly correct, and then were refined by the Mayo team.
With difficult or complicated cases, there may be several alternative treatment strategies. Also, medicine is always evolving and, depending on where a patient sought their first diagnosis, they can miss out on new therapies or clinical trials that are available elsewhere.
A 2018 study published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology found that a second review by a multidisciplinary tumor board at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center changed the diagnosis for 43% of the 70 patients in the study. Cancer treatment is an on-going relationship. Patients need to find a team they can trust.
Most patients try to avoid surgery if they can. A second opinion is most useful when there is not a perfect answer and the patient wants more input. What are their alternatives?
Many diseases share the same symptoms, and doctors and patients alike find it challenging when signs and symptoms don’t point directly to a diagnosis. An incorrect diagnosis can set a patient on the wrong path. Anyone who has completed a round of treatment for a condition and sees no improvement, or is facing a worsening condition, should seek another opinion.
Medicine is Seldom Black and White
“Sometimes symptoms can incorrectly point to one thing. We encourage our insureds to seek a second medical opinion – and not just for life-threatening situations. When a course of treatment can affect quality of life, a second opinion is crucial,” comments Gino Stirpe, Vice President of VUMI® Canada. “Patients should not worry about offending their first doctor when asking them to share medical records, pathology slides, imaging and other test results. They need to be asking difficult questions like: ‘How many of these procedures have you done? What are the alternatives? Who are your colleagues? What are the possible complications?” But at the end of the day,” Stirpe concludes, “A patient needs to be sure they have found the right team and the right treatment plan. Our Second Medical Opinion VIP® is an integral part of coverage. It’s amazing how this option has removed geographic barriers to care.”
Sources: Cleveland Clinic Newsletter, September 2020; Yale Medicine, January 2020