Maine physicians have a duty to direct patients to seek a second opinion when appropriate. There are enough gray areas in medicine that it is often worth asking for a second opinion, but alarmingly, only three percent of patients ask for a second opinion! What is the reason for this?
Could it be that Maine patients are simply lackadaisical about following a doctors clear statement that a second opinion is warranted? Or, given the insurance disincentive to provide more costly care, is it the case that doctors feel pressure to minimize second opinion referrals?
Medical test results can give conflicting information to a primary care physician, and in many cases, another physician’s opinion-perhaps even a specialist’s opinion- is warranted. Though patients may worry about what their primary care physician will think and how they will be treated in future visits if they do seek a second medical opinion, a physician’s attitude can reverse that fear. It is medical malpractice for a Maine physician to fail to refer a patient for a second opinion in appropriate circumstances.
Maine doctors should encourage patients who are unclear or uncomfortable about the management of a particular course of medical or surgical treatment to obtain another opinion. Maine physicians should be interested in how another doctor can approach the same clinical situation, but are they?
Elective surgery and diagnoses of cancer are two instances where second opinions could be very helpful. This is particularly important in Maine for this reason: If, for example, a doctor negligently overlooks a tumor on an imaging study, and three years go by before the medical mistake is caught, the patient cannot recover against the negligent doctor for the increased risk of death, payment of bills for costly treatments caused by the delay in treatment, or lost wages related to the delay in treatment.
Knowing how vulnerable Maine patients are to physical, emotional and financial injury caused by medical malpractice is reason enough to give second opinions a second look.
Copyright 2009, Briggs & Wholey