Many patients who receive an initial diagnosis choose to seek a second opinion, and according to one recent study, in a significant percentage of cases, they’re right to do so.
Health policy researchers at the Mayo Clinic analyzed records of hundreds of patients who had come to the clinic for a second opinion. The findings were startling: 88% of the referred patients left with a different medical determination, according to a New York Daily News article about the study.
More than one in five patients (21%) got a completely different diagnosis, while about two thirds (67%) received a modified diagnosis. Only 12% of diagnoses remained the same after the patient sought a second opinion.
And as James Naessens, the Mayo Clinic health care policy researcher who led the study team, pointed out, the finding that more than one in five patients might have a completely incorrect diagnosis is especially 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.”
Incorrect diagnoses can lead to serious and even fatal medical errors
Medical misdiagnosis is one of the most persistent and dangerous medical errors affecting patients in New York and nationwide. Without the correct diagnosis, it is impossible for a patient to receive the correct treatment. And patients who are incorrectly diagnosed face not only the symptoms of an untreated medical condition, but also, in many cases, the side effects of inappropriate or unnecessary treatment for a condition that they do not actually have.
Certainly, no doctor can be expected to correctly and immediately diagnose every condition. Some diagnostic errors happen because medical conditions have ambiguous or hidden symptoms. But even in those cases, doctors are expected to understand that there is some doubt surrounding the diagnosis and take appropriate steps to protect the patient’s health. And when doctors fail to follow established standards of care during the diagnostic process, patients can be seriously or even fatally injured.
A 2015 report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine shed light on several of the most common causes of medical misdiagnosis, including:
- Failing to order medical tests, such as blood tests and CT scans, even when the need for such testing is medically indicated;
- Misinterpreting the results of tests such as X-ray scans;
- Failing to refer a patient to an appropriate specialist.
And as the study results from the Mayo Clinic show, if a patient has any reason to doubt a doctor’s diagnosis and wants to seek a second opinion, the desire to get that second opinion is almost always warranted. Moreover, because a delay in correct diagnosis can be exceptionally dangerous, it’s wise for patients to seek that second opinion as soon as possible, especially for serious medical conditions – and to keep careful track of every medical visit, appointment and diagnosis. In the event that a diagnostic error resulting in injury does occur, the negligent medical provider can be held accountable.