Providers, independent services expand second opinion options

Second opinions have long been an option for patients, but there is now a growing number of online services dedicated specifically to providing patients with another perspective on their diagnosis, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Major providers such as the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston sponsor some of these services, while others are independent consultants who partner with specialists. MGH has maintained its online service for about eight years, and last year handled roughly 10,000 cases last year, 10 times the number five years ago, Gregory Pauly, M.D., chief operating officer of the hospital's Massachusetts General Physician Organization, told the WSJ.

Patients and employers that include the service as a benefit are driving the demand, Pauly said, with most of the opinion requests concerning cancer, neurosurgery, orthopedics and cardiology.

Cleveland Clinic has maintained its second opinion service, MyConsult, even longer, and the number of patients who use it annually has grown from 15 percent to 25 percent, driven largely by corporate clients and patients who live far from the clinic. Clinic doctors who give second opinions diverge from the original provider about 11 percent of the time, according to Managing Director Jonathan Schaffer, M.D., and make minor treatment amendments in nearly a quarter of cases and major changes in 16 percent.

Many experts encourage patients to look outside of their institution or healthcare network for second opinions, increasing the demand for independent services. "There are sometimes internal cultural approaches to treatment and it's probably necessary for patients to go outside to get a new approach," F. Marc Stewart, M.D., president of the Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit that helps patients access medical care, told the WSJ

Providers should encourage patients to seek second opinions, according to research earlier this year, because regardless of whether the other doctors agree or disagree with the first diagnosis, the additional consult improves outcomes and community health.

"If you don't have the right diagnosis, you're not likely to get an effective treatment," Miles Varn, M.D., the chief medical officer at PinnacleCare, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview in February. "From the very start, it's important that the diagnosis get confirmed."

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