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Here's An Opinion: Get A Second One

By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) - How often do we get the diagnosis right on the nose?  Well, a good percentage of the time ... but maybe not a good enough percentage of the time. A new study in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice shows that approximately 20% of people who seek a second opinion for a medical problem have been misdiagnosed by their original treating physician.

A doctor wears a stethoscope during an examination (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The study looked at close to 300 patients who had seen primary care providers and then went on to seek additional advice from experts at the Mayo Clinic. It turns out that about 1 in 5 had been given the wrong diagnosis.

Now it is important to understand, however, that the patients who got a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic were more likely to have complex medical issues, which might make it appear that we mess up a lot and really should've done a better job.  The percentage is probably less than 20% in the real world of conventional-not-too-complicated medical issues, but nonetheless, the more likely figure of 10% misdiagnosis is still much too high even in these cases.

Making a diagnosis can be a tough thing. Consider the fact that there are probably about 10,000 actual solitary medical diagnoses out there. Yet, the number of symptoms that exist only number about 300-400. And even all the fancy technology and gadgets we have don't help as much as you think.

So when should you consider getting a second opinion?

This time, the answer is more often than you think.

For example, if you have a serious disease such as cancer,  a second opinion can be invaluable not only to confirm the diagnosis but also to give you another opinion in terms of the best treatment.

A second opinion is also a good idea for other complex problems.

Additional reasons include: an unclear diagnosis or treatment; a treatment that carries more risk than you are comfortable with; a medical condition that is not improving; or when you're simply frustrated about how your medical care is being handled. That's especially important when it comes to issues with communication.

So the million dollar question then becomes, is it okay to ask your doctor to recommend a second opinion? You bet.

And no doctor worth the price of a tongue blade should hesitate to send you for a second opinion. And, a doctor should never make you feel stupid or act as if they are offended by your idea that a second opinion would be valuable.

Bottom line: If things are not clear, are complicated, or you're just not feeling comfortable with how things are going, a second opinion is right for you.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4's Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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