Patient-advocates have the right contacts to be able to arrange for a second or third medical opinion for the patient
Your doctor drops a bombshell. He tells you that you have a very serious ailment. The news strikes you like a bolt from the blue. You feel worried, anxious, defeated and confused, until, your spouse, who is also concerned about your health, suggests you don’t take the doctor’s word as final and seek a second opinion. You immediately feel relaxed. In this case, your spouse has acted as your advocate.
One of my patients had an interesting experience to share, “I had a lump in my neck. It was causing some sinus issues. My doctor sent me for a CT scan and when the results came back, he told me that it was tumour and had to be removed right away. I felt shocked and unsure of what to do. I called my sister who suggested that I call her doctor, someone she had consulted all these years on all her medical issues and trusted completely. I sought an appointment with my sister’s doc. He asked to see my CT scan along with a few other lab reports. Armed with all those reports I landed at his office. He examined them and said what my doctor was calling a “tumour” was actually a benign growth and it had been there for at least one decade without changing in size or shape. He also said surgery was unnecessary. I felt massively relieved.” In this case, the patient’s sister played the advocacy role by providing timely advice.
Once, at a patients’ group meet, an elderly man in a wheelchair raised his frail, trembling hand and asked, “How do I know whether my doctor is giving me the right advice?”
He had a point. You can’t go by a single doctor’s advice about a serious condition - you need to have it cross-checked with another. After all, your time, money and life are at stake. Doctors, especially busy doctors, often rush into making a diagnostic pronouncement, without always dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s.
A “patient advocate” can be a God send in such scenarios. He could be a spouse, a friend, a brother. Since a caregiver is generally a person on the “inside,” they are in a good position to know and understand the needs of a loved one. She may not have the necessary medical background, but her knowledge of the patient’s desires are equally important in making the best medical decisions.
Banish the thought that a patient-advocate is an adversarial position. It doesn’t necessarily mean being a doubting Thomas, and rushing out and getting a second opinion on every matter, or logging on to the internet and conducting your own research and confronting a doctor with your findings. It doesn’t also imply slipping on the boxing gloves and declaring, “Hey, I am on the other side. So Beware!”
What it means is that you are careful and wise. You don’t doubt others, but you do cross- check important information. It means that even if you decide to do your own research or obtain a second opinion, you will speak about this to your doctor. A good doctor should appreciate your transparency and this will strengthen your relationship. Remember, effective patient advocates do not breed discontent; they build long-lasting relationships between patients and their doctors.
Physicians are bound by a code of medical ethics that directs them to co-operate fully with their patients. If patients want to take a second or even a third opinion, doctors are legally bound to share your lab reports, prescriptions, and test results with other physicians. A doctor worth his salt would not feel insulted by such a suggestion. In fact, if your doctor discourages you from seeking another opinion, you have every reason to suspect his motives – and this should motivate you even more to seek another opinion. Generally, a patient-advocate will advise a second opinion when:
You don’t have confidence in your doctor. Patients are less likely to follow a course of treatment when it’s prescribed by a doctor whom they don’t trust.
You think there might be other treatment options. If your doctor tells you there is only one course of action, it should raise a red flag.
Your doctor dismisses your concerns. You know your body best, and if your doctor doesn’t listen to you or take your symptoms seriously, go see someone else.
You’re not getting better. Medicine is as much an art as a science, so a fresh viewpoint might make all the difference if you’re not recovering from an illness or surgery at the pace you expected.
You’re doctor recommends surgery. Anytime your doctor recommends an elective surgery to correct such problems as back pain, cataracts, gall stones or hernia, consider a second opinion.
Your condition is uncommon. Some conditions are so rare that a physician may have seen only one or two such cases in her career. It’s worthwhile to consult a doctor at a major medical centre who has more experience with dealing with rare diseases.