The legal side of second opinions

Doctors are human and, therefore, fallible. This leads to an environment in which many ethical healthcare providers refer complex cases to their colleagues. Occasionally, patients seek additional doctors themselves.

Regardless of the impetus for the second opinion, simply getting a new perspective does not necessarily increase the chance of a successful diagnosis. Two doctors could be wrong just as easily as one could. This situation often leads to complicated medical malpractice claims.

A complex situation

The complexity of this type of situation is difficult to overstate. For example, Health News Review reported on the media handling of a Mayo Clinic study of second opinions, revealing widespread dissemination of misinformation.

Many media outlets sensationalized or misunderstood the limitations of the Mayo publication. Few of the news articles covered the fact that the authors of the study did not provide for:

  • Whether the second opinion was correct, in addition to being different
  • When the patients decided to get the second opinion
  • The level of experience or specialization of the referring healthcare provider
  • How providers handle referrals in non-specialized settings

A serious set of consequences

This is important because correct diagnoses are essential for recovery — and sometimes even for survival. Therefore, as explained on FindLaw, misdiagnosis could be the basis for legal action.

A condition would not necessarily need to be complex for a provider to be negligent. Doctors fail in their professional obligations identifying relatively common illnesses, such as asthma.

A personal responsibility

In general, patients receive a similar level of scrutiny as do doctors during a medical malpractice case. Seeking a second opinion is simply one of many actions that could have an effect on the outcome of a claim.