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Scott Kappes
Scott Kappes
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Diagnosis Errors: A Second Opinion can Make all the Difference

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Each day thousands of Americans are diagnosed with cancer and other serious diseases, but according to a new report, we should be seeking a second opinion far more often.

The new report from QuantiaMD is the focus of today’s WSJ Informed Patient column, as well as this WSJ health blog post. The study found that almost half of the 6,400 physicians surveyed admitted that they encounter diagnostic errors (missed, late, or incorrect diagnosis) at least once a month. In about 10 percent of these cases a patient was harmed due to the inaccurate diagnosis.

Jonathan Lewin, a co-author of the study and chief radiologist at Johns Hopkins, says that second opinions are especially critical when a diagnosis has been made by a doctor with less experience in the field. “Radiology is a challenging discipline, so there’s going to be a big difference between someone who sees 50 brain tumors a week versus someone who sees maybe ten a year,” Lewin says.

In some instances health-care systems are now requiring patients to obtain a second opinion. These most commonly include case types that are known to have significant variability between experts, like cancers of the soft tissue, bladder and prostate, gynecologic malignancies, lung and colon cancers and brain tumors.

The National Cancer Institute’s cancer clinics provide free second opinion services for patients that have been diagnosed with a large variety of different cancers.

In many cases a second opinion may not be necessary, but when there is doubt or speculation about a diagnosis or a treatment plan, patients are better served by getting a second opinion. If nothing else, a second opinion will often allow the patient a better understanding of the disease and the treatment options that may be available.