Second opinion: your First or last resort?

As healthcare becomes more complex and multidisciplinary, XPRESS looks at the raging debate on a patient’s recourse to proper diagnosis and treatment

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XPRESS

Dubai: The launch of a free ‘second opinion’ service by a private hospital in the UAE has sparked a debate on whether patients should double-check on doctors’ diagnoses, or even the tests prescribed to arrive at them.

Last month, Zulekha Hospital introduced a novel service to provide free second opinions and consultations on courses of treatment, in a bid to reassure patients who may have to undergo surgery or commit to a potentially life-changing medication.

The service covers many fields, including cardiology, oncology and general surgery provided at Zulekha’s Dubai and Sharjah hospitals.

The launch of the service was not without reason. As Taher Shams, managing director of Zulekha Hospitals, put it, “The decision as well as the financial burden of undergoing a life-changing treatment or surgery is not a small one to make and our service has been designed to provide patients with added confidence and to help ensure they are absolutely certain about their course of treatment.”

Dr Fadi Alnehlaoui, surgical oncologist and general surgeon at the hospital, said, “Today, we all have access to an overload of information on the internet, from friends and the medical community. Sometimes it can be too much to take in and process, especially when you’re also coming to terms with a new diagnosis. We encourage patients to seek a second opinion so that they have peace of mind when it comes to the best course of action.”

Other hospitals also recommend seeking second opinions in the interests of their patients.

Dr Azad Moopen, chairman of the Aster group of hospitals, said the healthcare group has an inbuilt system which facilitates doctors to discuss the course of a patient’s treatment with a multi-disciplinary team.

“At Aster, we leverage technology to get second opinions from across the globe. We use Office 365 (Skype for business), through which our 2,000 doctors across 20 hospitals and 80 clinics worldwide can get easily connected to discuss reports and the line of treatment.”

He said unlike the past, the present day information explosion has pushed patients to seek more investigations and tests, which can sometimes be counter-productive.

“Our doctors work as part of multi-disciplinary treatment teams, so that they can arrive at a proper diagnosis and line of treatment.”

But the question is do all cases warrant a second opinion? When is it essential?

Dr Abdulrahman Mohammad, medical director at the Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, cautions patients against indiscriminately seeking second opinion.

“That will only lead to confusion.”

He said, “Our hospital gets many tertiary referrals, so a lot of people come to us for a second opinion. We recommend taking a second opinion only when a patient has a serious disease or has to undergo a major rescue operation or has been taking treatment from one doctor or hospital and is not getting any better.”

He said typical cases that Mediclinic Welcare Hospital gets for a second opinion are patients with severe sepsis, multi-organ failure or some life-threatening diseases. “A lot of patients want to meet more than one doctor when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

Asked whether people tend to overdo the second opinion approach because they are insured, Dr Mohammad said, “Insurance companies themselves ask for a second opinion in certain cases. For example, if a patient is being treated for sinus and he has been recommended a sinus operation, the insurance company may ask the patient to go in for a second opinion.”

If the second doctor also recommends an operation, the patient is referred to the doctor who is more cost-effective.

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