At least twice a week, if not more often, I get a phone call, email or WhatsApp message along the following lines: “Dear Peter, my mother has [insert name of] cancer and she’s in [insert name of] hospital. Is this the best hospital? And where can we get a second opinion?” It’s a frightening question from a human being in despair.
Physicians are good but they’re not flawless. In most professions, asking a colleague how they would act in a certain situation is part of the standard procedure. You want to improve the outcome of your work and you do this with the help of a colleague. Their advice is of value and you either take it into account and change your approach or you decide to leave it “as is”, but in any case, you’re glad that you asked. You now feel certain that your way of working is the right way.
When patients are diagnosed with cancer their world is instantly turned upside down. They do not know where to get information and they become dependent on their physician, like a baby depends on its mother. We need to do everything we can to get patients’ feet back on the ground to create safety, trust and security. A lot of this can be done in the hospital where the diagnosis has taken place. However, whether we’re in the right hospital for that particular treatment and whether we are on the right track, is a different question which needs to be addressed carefully.
Second opinions can help enormously to provide patients with that safety, trust and security. A second opinion needs to be given by another doctor, in another hospital. It needs to be explained to the patient themselves in layman’s terms. It’s not enough for the doctor to say: “Trust me, I consulted an experienced physician in another hospital”. No, a second opinion in another hospital needs to be provided together with an explanation by an oncologist. And then you can go back to your first physician, or not…
In this day and age, it is remarkable that patients still face difficulties in obtaining a second opinion. It should be part of the standard procedure. No-one can know everything, no matter how good they may be. And certainly, no-one is flawless. Mistakes are easily made and, when we’re dealing with the life of a patient and the emotions of their loved ones, we have a duty to handle them with care.
Second opinions are a matter of life!
Patient Advocate, Inspire2Live