Doctors Protect Colleagues at Patient Expense

One of the questions I am asked frequently is about the best way to find the right doctor for a second opinion. That question — and its answer — have become among the most important answers I’ve ever provided, ever since the proof of my answer was provided in the results of a study last week by the Institute of Medicine as a Profession (IMAP.)

How many times have you heard that advice — get a second opinion! It’s important to do so if you will ever need any type of difficult or invasive treatment for your medical problem. Long term drugs, drugs with difficult side effects, any type of surgical procedure or any procedure which will have a long term effect on you — yes — you need a second opinion.

Why? Two reasons. First, to make sure your diagnosis is correct. Second, to make sure you know about all the treatment options, have someone to discuss them with, and can then choose the one you have the most confidence in according to your own goals for the treatment.

The advice I give? Never ever ever see a second opinion doctor who has any relationship to the first opinion doctor. Don’t see a second doctor from the same practice, from the same building, from the same hospital, from the same country club, from the same neighborhood, from the same bowling league — you get the idea. The idea is that they can’t be friends or close colleagues.

Why? Because two friends won’t contradict each other. Your number two will rarely give you different answers from your number one doctor if they know each other and respect each other. Knowing that, then you also understand that your number two won’t be as objective as necessary and if you need anything at all when you are being diagnosed and decisions are being made for treatment, then you know you need objectivity!

The study done by IMAP proves this point. Without going into all the details, the bottom line is that too many doctors talk out of both sides of their mouths. While, on the one hand, 98 percent of them say that medical errors should most definitely be reported, 46 percent said they had witnessed an error and had not reported it.

Why didn’t they report those errors?  Because they were committed by a friend, or close colleague, or a business partner or even just the guy down the hall.

Hmmm… a major ethical disconnect if you ask me.

You’ve seen me type it before: trust, but verify. A second opinion is absolutely necessary. We want to believe that our doctors are not the ones who do these unethical, and possibly dangerous things. But it turns out that about half talk out of both sides of their mouths. That means if you have seen two doctors, then one of them fit that unethical profile. If you’ve seen 10 doctors, then five of them do.

A second opinion from someone with no relationship to your first opinion doctor may be lifesaving in its objectivity.

Read more, and get more details on my About.com blog.

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