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Making The Right Diagnosis: Should I Get a Second Medical Opinion?

Consider the true life account of Frank published on ABCNews. He was 48 years old when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was about to have his prostate removed. The surgery was just minutes away: The IV drip had begun, the operating room was set.

And then the call came in from the pathology department. A check of his biopsy slides showed there had been a mistake. There was no cancer!

“You can imagine it was like waking up from a bad dream,” Frank recalls.

WHEN a doctor says that his diagnosis reveals you have a certain disorder, can you be sure that his diagnosis is accurate? Not always!

How Serious is the Problem of Misdiagnosis

According to one report up to 12 million patients receive a wrong diagnosis every year.

For example, at a United States university teaching hospital, a 30-year study of autopsies “found that, rather than increasing the over-all accuracy of diagnoses, the reliance on high-technology tests actually contributed to missed diagnoses in some cases.”

Studies comparing autopsy findings with the cause of death reported by the doctor find the doctor may be wrong 10 to 30 percent of the time. For instance, in a 10-year review of trauma cases in University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria, diagnostic errors were observed in one out of five cases. This is in spite of increasing access to sophisticated equipment.

Interestingly, Dr. McElligott, a former president of the Canadian Association of Pathologists, thinks that over reliance on such equipment is part of the problem. “There is such sophisticated diagnostic imaging now,” he said, “many clinicians feel that they have not all that much more to learn from the autopsy, so they are not requesting it.”

Unfortunately, in some cases, the outcome might have been different had the diagnosis made before death proved correct. In view of these startling facts, is it not wise for people with serious health problems to seek more than one opinion from independent medical practitioners.

When should you consider a second opinion?

This will be very ideal if you have serious medical conditions that are either life-changing or life threatening. It may also be needed if you feel uncomfortable with your diagnosis and recommended treatment. If the physician recommends very expensive surgery or investigations, some feel a second medical opinion may be needed if you are paying out of your pocket.

Second Medical opinions may be required in Common Situations like:

  • Chronic medical conditions such as cancer
  • Major surgeries that are not emergencies
  • New or experimental forms of treatment
  • Any treatment that carries significant risk
  • Conditions that require surgical interventions

What are  the advantages of a second medical opinion?

  • You become more informed and confident of your treatment choices
  • You are assured that appropriate investigations and diagnosis have been made
  • You are fully aware of the risks and benefits and suitability of the treatment plan
  • It reduces any anxiety about the quality of care you are receiving

Patients may need to be more assertive in requesting for a second opinion. Generally, many patients tend to tread softly with doctors so as not to offend them in any way. In view of this, many suppress their concerns, fears and wishes although they ought to be wholly involved in decisions taken.

Some believe the doctor will feel insulted if they request for a second opinion. This is NOT true. Most competent doctors will be more than willing to answer your questions and welcome such opportunities for second expert views too. In fact, seeking a second opinion is built into the decision-making process when serious health issues are concerned. How? Many doctors usually consult their peers and specialist when managing patients. This contributes significantly to proper diagnosis and patient outcome. It is one reason why the quality of care in teaching hospitals is consistently better than individually owned private hospitals.

Interestingly, some doctors actively encourage patients to get a second opinion. According to Dr. Michael Andrews, a former president of the Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology, ‘’I encourage my patients to get a second opinion because they often come back feeling more confident about his recommendations.’’

Making a decision can be very challenging when you have multiple treatment options before you. Nevertheless, always remember that no one knows your body like you do. In serious conditions, seek medical opinions but do so without delay.

Finally, remember that irrespective of your differences with healthcare staff, show respect for their training and experience, and be confident in their abilities and grateful for their efforts. This will always encourage them to do their best which is what you really want.

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