FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-05-07
While a second opinion is probably not needed for common medical issues, a second opinion can prevent a diagnostic error for patients diagnosed with cancer and other serious diseases. Recent medical evidence shows that second opinions on pathology slides and radiology images can lead to significant changes in diagnosis and disease treatment. Though the frequency of diagnostics errors is statistically low, an accurate diagnosis and treatment always matters to the individual patient.
According to a recent report by QuantiaMD on diagnostic errors, about half of the 6,400 physicians who were surveyed confront diagnostic errors like missed, late or wrong diagnoses every month. Almost two-thirds of the surveyed doctors said that as many as 10 percent of the misdiagnoses resulted in harm to patients. Some of the reasons for the misdiagnoses given were failure to consider other diagnoses, inadequate patient history, over-testing and unusual patient presentation.
A different study on cancer diagnosis showed the diagnostic error rate among oncologic pathologists was between 1 to 15 percent. Even though the majority of diagnostic errors did not result in severe harm, the diagnostic errors caused mild to moderate harm in 50 percent of the cases with errors. Even at the medical institutions affiliated with Harvard, half of the serious or deadly malpractice claims over the last five years were caused by diagnostic errors.
Some forms of diseases, like some cancers, can be particularly difficult to diagnose. Test results can return false positives or be inconclusive. Pathologists and radiologists may misread slides and scans or fail to use the latest tests or technology. In other cases, doctors may not explore more than one diagnosis and overlook evidence that may suggest a different one. Experience can also be an influencing factor, especially in specialized areas like radiology. A radiologist that routinely sees brain tumors will be more adept than one who sees only a few every year.
Second opinions are therefore particularly important among patients diagnosed with certain diseases like cancer, pulmonary disease, dementia and heart disease. Because of the variability among experts in certain cancer case types, some health-care systems already require second opinions for soft tissue cancer like breast cancer, gynecologic malignancies, lung and colon cancers, brain tumors and bladder and prostate cancer. A second opinion is therefore crucial in catching a misdiagnosis and prescribing treatment or it may help a patient further understand an original diagnosis. Second opinions are also important when patients receive different recommendations from different specialists.
A misdiagnosis can become legally actionable if the delay or failure to diagnose a disease results in injury or disease progression beyond that which would have occurred had there been a timely or accurate diagnosis originally.
Diagnostic errors can be difficult to prove and therefore it is important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your legal options.