Why Mayo Clinic doctors say getting a 2nd opinion may save your life

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WATCH: A new Mayo Clinic study has found that more than 1 in 5 patients are incorrectly diagnosed by their health care provider – Apr 5, 2017

You receive an initial diagnosis and treatment plan from your doctor, but do you carry through with the plan no questions asked or do you get a second opinion?

New research out of the Mayo Clinic suggests that getting a second opinion may be invaluable for those handed a complex diagnosis. As many as 88 per cent of patients who head to the world-renowned hospital end up with a new or tweaked diagnosis.

Twenty-one per cent of that group received a new diagnosis altogether.

Only 12 per cent got confirmation that the original diagnosis was complete and correct.

“Effective and efficient treatment depends on the right diagnosis,” the study’s lead author, James Naessens, said in a statement.

“Knowing that more than one out of every five referral patients may be completely [and] incorrectly diagnosed is troubling – not only because of the safety risks for these patients prior to correct diagnosis but also because of the patients we assume are not being referred at all,” he said.

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Frontline doctors don’t always have concrete answers when they’re dealing with conditions that may require specialist treatment. Sometimes they’ll recommend specialists for a second opinion but in other cases, patients will outright ask for one.

In Naessens’ study, he looked at the health records of 286 patients referred from primary care doctors to the Mayo Clinic’s office in Rochester, Minn. The study pored over referrals from a two-year period between January 2009 and December 2010.

Some patients in the study may have been Canadian, too. Canadians often head to specialists in the U.S. and out of the Mayo Clinic to seek expert care post-diagnosis.

The study authors told Global News that “patient geographic origins” weren’t taken into account.

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Naessens’ team wanted to better understand how often first diagnoses were accurate. Turns out, that was only 12 per cent of the time.

Sixty-six per cent of patients got their diagnoses and treatment plans refined or redefined.

The findings emphasize the importance of getting a second opinion, Naessens said. For starters, a second look could lead to quicker access to lifesaving treatment or stopping unnecessary treatments in their tracks.

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In some cases, a new diagnosis alleviated stress on the family, especially if there were concerns of genetic implications.

Naessens said doctors and insurers should be open-minded about second opinions. Some physicians could be “more confident” in their diagnosis than they should be, or patients could lack the knowledge or assertiveness to speak up and ask for a referral.

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“The important take-away is that systems, providers and patients all need to be empowered to seek a second opinion when the diagnosis is uncertain – or even just to gain peace of mind,” Elizabeth Zimmermann Young, the Mayo Clinic’s spokeswoman, told Global News in an email.

The Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country’s doctors, said that patients and physicians should make room for a second opinion when serious diagnoses are on the table.

“Following a respectful discussion of their concerns, the CMA supports a patient’s reasonable request to seek a second opinion and physicians should help facilitate this where possible,” Dr. Granger Avery, the CMA’s president, told Global News.

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Naessens’ full findings were published this week in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

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— With files from Allison Vuchnich

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