Medical Care

The Importance of Getting a Second Opinion

People always hear about getting a second opinion. Many people even threaten to “get a second opinion”, but never do, although, when they do, at least one study suggests, they often get a differing opinion. A 2005 Gallup Poll that surveyed 5,000 Americans found that about half reported “never” seeking a second opinion and only 3 percent got a second opinion on a diagnosis, treatment, operation or drug.  Yet when they do seek a second opinion, many find it to be very helpful. For example, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study led by researcher James Naessens, Sc. D., nearly 9 out of 10 patients seeking a second opinion at Mayo go home with a different diagnosis—completely changing treatment plans and prognoses for some patients.

The Mayo study isn’t the first of its kind to bring attention to major medical errors. In the last few years, Johns Hopkins researchers reported that incorrect diagnoses were a third leading cause of death in the U.S., and the National Academy of Medicine found that nearly every person will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime. And, in a Washington Post article, Mark L. Graber, M.D. a senior fellow at the research institute RTI International and founder of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, noted that diagnosis is extremely hard because there are 10,000 diseases and only 200 to 300 symptoms.

Even though there is so much research pointing to the fact that most people will benefit from a second opinion, and not having a second opinion actually causing harm to many people, there are many reasons people don’t seek a second opinion, such as that people think:

  • They’ll offend their doctor
  • A second opinion will delay their treatment
  • They can’t afford to get a second opinion and additional testing
  • They don’t have another nearby doctor in their network
  • They really don’t know enough about their condition to second-guess their doctor

There are enough aversions to getting a much-needed and often-beneficial second opinion, but, if you add the idea of someone being homebound or in a senior care facility to the mix (possibly having some stroke-induced or other communications or movement issues at an advanced age), the second opinion often seems completely unattainable to elderly patients and their caregivers. This is an especially unfortunate situation because, in reality, people who have several health issues or communication and movement issues may benefit the most from a second opinion.

If you care for someone, here are some of the times when you might want to consider a second opinion:

  • When there is a new diagnosis
  • When surgery or a complex treatment plan is recommended
  • When new medications are added to a patient’s routine

In any of these cases, a second opinion could confirm a diagnosis, catch the use of a medication that may not be the perfect fit for a particular patient who may have other health issues, and/or keep someone from having unnecessary surgery or surgery in a more harmful way than necessary. For example, if someone needs to be on blood thinners, but has to come off of them for surger, that is not a situation to take lightly. The risk vs reward could use a second thought and there are many types of blood thinners that could be used pre-surgery, even if the surgery is the right thing to do.

If you think the person in your care needs a second opinion, but think it could be impossible to physically or financially have one done, or that you might offend an existing doctor, look for companies such as Geriatric Physicians Consultants, where a geriatric specialist can offer a free initial consultation, a flat fee for a second opinion and a complete review of the patient’s medications, diagnoses, and suggested surgeries.

For more information, please visit  or call (800) 285 – 2133 (24/7 access to a live receptionist).

Dr. Nathanael Desire DO is a geriatric and internal medicine specialist practicing on Long Island, NY and is also the Founder of Geriatric Physicians Consultants (GPC), which offers advice and second opinions to caregivers and home and facility-bound patients through the web site

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