Why providers should encourage patients to seek second opinions

When it comes to healthcare, both providers and consumers benefit when patients get a second opinion about treatment, new research indicates.

In 1,000 cases from 2012-2014, almost 77 percent of "medical interventions"--in which a healthcare advisory company helped patients obtain a second opinion after their initial diagnosis--led to changes in diagnosis, treatment and/or treating physician, according to data from PinnacleCare.

About 3 percent of patients who sought a second opinion through PinnacleCare ended up with a change of diagnosis, almost 21 percent decided to change their treatment plans and 41 percent transferred their care to another provider, the research found.

One figure in particular, though, stands out to Miles Varn, M.D., the chief medical officer at PinnacleCare, who spoke with FierceHealthcare during an exclusive interview.

"Eighteen people were going to have surgery and didn't need it. That's a remarkable statistic," he said. "It's pretty eye-opening, even to those of us in this business who do this every day."

Second opinions are crucial for patients, especially those diagnosed with complex conditions, because "medicine is an art as much as a science," he added. "Even well-meaning, bright physicians can disagree."

Simply put, the more information patients obtain, the better health outcomes they'll likely end up with, according to Varn.

"If you don't have the right diagnosis, you're not likely to get an effective treatment," he said. "From the very start, it's important that the diagnosis get confirmed."

Indeed, medical errors such as misdiagnoses are an acute problem in the healthcare industry, with one report indicating that such hospital mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States, according to FierceHealthcare. Other research has found that establishing respect between providers and patients can significantly reduce the incidence of medical errors.

From Varn's perspective, though, doctors and health systems don't necessarily bear the brunt of the blame for the care delivery issues highlighted by PinnacleCare's data.

"It's not a fault of the individual providers at all. It's a necessary complication related to a very complex healthcare system," he said.

But doctors would be wise not to react unfavorably to patients who insist on getting a second opinion, as this can get in the way of building a trusting physician-patient relationship, FiercePracticeManagement reported.

Plus, Varn added, encouraging patients to seek second opinions can provide very real benefits to the healthcare industry, such as reducing unnecessary care.

"For the system as a whole, there's a whole lot of cost savings when you multiply [the data] over thousands or hundreds of thousands of patients," he said.

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