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Get A Second Opinion

According to a 2006 survey conducted by Harris Interactive® for the PBS health series Second Opinion, when seeing a physician for a medical problem, more than one in three U.S. adults (36%) never get a second opinion for a medical diagnosis and nearly one in ten (9%) rarely or never understand their diagnosis.

Commissioned by public broadcaster WXXI and the University of Rochester Medical Center, the series’ producers, the survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults was designed to better understand how people communicate with their doctors and what methods are most commonly used to seek health-related information.

“Doctors disagree amongst themselves about almost everything,” says Dr. Peter Salgo, Clinical Professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and host of Second Opinion. “Medicine isn’t a ‘diagnosis and treatment machine.’ You don’t put symptoms in the hopper at the top of a box, turn the crank, and get a prescription at the bottom slot. Folks should think about what they need from their doctor, then ask around to be sure they’re getting it.”

Dr. Salgo adds, “People worry that docs will be offended if a patient asks for a second opinion. That’s simply not true. In fact, if your doctor seems uncomfortable with your desire to seek a second opinion, you can fire him or her. It’s your body after all, not your doctor’s. Doctors deal with life and death, specifically your life and death. Get it right before you commit to a plan of treatment.”

The survey also revealed that U.S. adults use their friends and family (65%) as much as they do their healthcare providers (65%) to find health-related information. Dr. Louis Papa, M.D., FACP, an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Rochester, says that while it may seem easier to turn to friends and family for health and medical information, it is vitally important to always consult a primary care physician regarding any medical issue or concern—no matter how minor it may seem.

“Doctors and patients alike are harried and pressed for time, therefore a discussion with a family member or friend may seem to be the easiest and least threatening approach to a medical concern or question,” Dr. Papa says. “The problem is most family and friends are not medical professionals and base their advice on personal experience rather than objective data, professional training and a detailed history of your health.”

Dr. Papa adds, “You wouldn’t want a family member to fly you to Florida. You want a well-trained and experienced pilot and you expect that skill and expertise when you fly. You should certainly expect the same with your health.”

While the survey found little or no statistical differences regarding attitudes and actions among the sexes, the findings revealed that among ethnic groups Hispanics (22%) are twice as likely as Whites (11%) to say they have undergone a medical test they did not fully understand.

Geography may also play a role in a person’s healthcare decisions. Adults living in the Northeast (39%) are more likely to seek a second opinion (often or sometimes) than those living in any other region in the United States: North-Central (26%), South (28%) or West (26%).

Americans can take charge of their own healthcare by knowing what questions to ask their doctor and increasing their general understanding of healthcare issues.

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