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Mayo Clinic says get a second opinion – first ones are frequently wrong

The majority of patients who got a second opinion left with a different diagnosis, a Mayo Clinic study found.

If you're diagnosed with an illness, you might want to get a second opinion.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester did a study (published in a medical journal Tuesday) and found as many as 88 percent of patients who came to the clinic for a second opinion for a complex condition left with a new or more refined diagnosis, a news release says.

The Mayo Clinic says a different or more detailed diagnosis can change someone's care plan "and potentially their lives."

The study looked at 286 patients who were referred from primary care providers to Mayo Clinic's General Internal Medicine Division in Rochester between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010. Here's how the types of diagnostic errors breaks down:

  • Only 12 percent of patients left the Mayo Clinic with the same diagnosis.
  • In 21 percent of cases, the diagnosis was changed completely.
  • In 66 percent of patients, their diagnosis was refined or redefined.

“Effective and efficient treatment depends on the right diagnosis,” Dr. James Naessens said in the release. “Knowing that more than 1 out of every 5 referral patients may be completely [and] incorrectly diagnosed is 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.”

A lot of people don't consider getting a second opinion because they either don't know that's something you can do, or because it can be expensive for people to see another doctor who may not be in their health insurance's network, the Mayo Clinic says.

“Total diagnostic costs for cases resulting in a different final diagnosis were significantly higher than those for confirmed or refined diagnoses, but the alternative could be deadly," Naessens said.

How to ask for a second opinion

It may seem a little awkward to ask your doctor for a referral to get a second opinion, but don't worry – asking for a second opinion is pretty normal, U.S. News and World Report says, noting any doctor who is good at what they do will welcome a second opinion.

Here are some tips about seeking a second opinion:

– Don't worry about asking for a second opinion for the minor things. Instead, seek a second opinion for serious or chronic issues, especially if you're unsure about your doctor's diagnosis or if the treatment for the issue is experimental or risky, U.S. News and World Report notes. But it's important not to wait too long to get a second opinion, because you don't want to delay treatment for too long, the Patient Advocate Foundation says.

– When asking for the second opinion, tell your doctor you just want to be fully informed about your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, Compass Healthcare Solutions suggests. You can ask your doctor for a referral to see a specific doctor you have in mind, but WebMD says don't see a doctor that is affiliated with your initial doctor – they probably won't contradict them.

– Before you go see the new doctor, make sure you get a copy of your medical records and test results, the Patient Advocate Foundation says. Sometimes tests can be wrong, though so WebMD says you can ask for a second medical opinion and for the lab or pathologist to do the tests gain.

– When you go in for your second opinion, remember you're looking to confirm your current diagnosis – the second opinion isn't always right, U.S. News and World Report says. Doctors may differ on your diagnosis or a treatment plan, and ultimately it's your choice to decide what's best for you, the Patient Advocate Foundation says.

For more information on when and how to get a second opinion, click here.

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