Unfortunately the answer to that question is yes. Physicians are usually highly driven individuals who dedicate most of their time to their patients. They have studied at least 13 years between medical school (doctorate), residency (post doctorate) and fellowship (post post doctorate). Some of them have 2 or more fellowships or are employed by a famous university. Others are the owners of their own successful practices. For a lot of doctors, the prospect of a second medical opinion is a challenge to their knowledge, a challenge to the “loyalty” that a patient should have.
What we have to do is always keep things in perspective. The human body that the physician is treating belongs to us, the patients. The patient is the one who would suffer if a mistake is made an the one who would miss the opportunity of a better treatment if the treating physician fails to offer it. The other thing that needs to be kept in perspective is the degree of autonomy that we should have. A physician does not order a treatment. A physician recommends a treatment. The decision to follow the physician’s recommendation belongs to the patient and to follow a recommendation is a measure of trust.
What to do in the event that doubt arises? What happens if we need reassurance about a new treatment or a new diagnosis? What if the treatment or diagnosis is complicated? This is the territory of the second medical opinion. The treating physician would be the one releasing the records to the second medical opinion physician. The best approach, as always is to be transparent and upfront, but always respectful. The second medical opinion is a tool which should strengthen the relationship between the treating physician and the patient.
The way that healthcare is evolving means that there might be less and less time for physicians to spend with us. This means that there will be less time to explain complicated issues and more second medical opinion consultations. Treating physicians can be offended, but they should not be offended, specially if the process is respectful. Two brains always think better than one.
Marco A. Ramos MD