NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 9, 2005

Patients know the importance of getting a second opinion before embarking on a major medical treatment, but obtaining that opinion is often difficult and time-consuming, says the Wall Street Journal.

The reasons? First, health care providers often put up barriers to obtaining a second opinion -- some physicians resent their judgment being questioned, and second opinion providers dislike the hassle and time of sifting through stacks of paper records. Second, patients must go through the trouble of collecting copies of paper records from various labs and offices.

Based on various studies of second opinions, however, it is worth the trouble:

  • A study from Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia revealed that in cases involving second opinions on eye treatments, prognosis and treatments changed 15 percent of the time, and surgery was considered unnecessary 30 percent of the time.
  • A Northwestern University study of 340 breast cancer patients showed that reviewers disagreed with the first opinion 80 percent of the time, and mastectomy and lumpectomy plans were altered for 8 percent of women.
  • In cancer pathology reports, errors occur anywhere from 1 percent to 20 percent of the time, says the Journal.

President Bush recently encouraged the use of electronic medical records to save patients and health care providers time and money. Indeed, several regional hospitals and health groups have already begun implementation of electronic records.

However, critics worry about the risk to patient privacy, although health care advocates argue that the challenge to privacy is no different than the banking industries measures used to protect consumer privacy.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "Why It's Hard to Get a Second Opinion,? (And How to Make Sure You Get One)," Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2005; Jennifer Clauson et al., "Results of the Lynn Sage Second-Opinion Program for Local Therapy in Patients with Breast Carcinoma," Cancer, vol. 94, no. 4., February 15, 2002.

For WSJ text (subscription required):,,SB110721133913441602,00.html

For Clauson study:


Browse more articles on Health Issues