When you visit your doctor or are sent to see a specialist about an illness or health matter of concern, what is it that you are really looking for from them? It’s a question all should ask themselves before heading to see a medical professional, because I suspect the majority of people would simply say they visit hoping to hear good news.
Visiting a GP or consultant fearing the worst, patients can simply forget to ask the relevant key questions about what has been causing their condition, as they simply want to hear them dismiss their fears over a potentially serious illness as irrational, and get back to life as normal.
Of course, good news is the ideal outcome, but as specialists in handling cases of medical negligence and misdiagnosis, far too often we see people given good news only to find out at a later stage that their fears and worries had actually been justified, and that the problem causing them to be unwell had been missed.
Not only that, the delay in diagnosis causes their condition to worsen, making it less likely that future treatment will be successful.
It is with that in mind that we’d encourage people to seriously consider their approach when visiting a medical professional with real concerns over their health. Quite simply, as a patient, you shouldn’t go simply looking for good news. Nor should you be dismissive of what your GP or specialist says, as in the vast majority of cases, they will be right and recommend a suitable course of action.
However, you should always visit a GP or consultant looking for answers which are based on clearly communicated medical expertise and investigation, and which completely reassure you of all of your concerns.
You should ask your GP or consultant to go over your condition and symptoms with you, explain what could be causing them, the tests they have (or perhaps haven’t done) and why, the diagnosis and prognosis, and why they have suggested the actions they have.
We know that medical misdiagnosis can have life-changing consequences, so if you are afraid to ask questions and demand fully explained answers, make sure you take someone with you to an appointment who will.
If you are still unhappy, then asking for a second opinion is something you could consider.
Specialist failed to test for bowel cancer despite clear symptoms
We recently concluded a legal compensation case in which a grandmother, who had all the red flag warning signs of bowel cancer and did the right thing in going to her GP, came home from a resulting appointment with a consultant ‘like she had won the lottery’ because of the good news she’d been given.
The lady, who was 65 at the time, was told she had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a common condition which does not pose a serious threat to health. She was given tablets and returned home happy.
Sadly, that diagnosis was made by a specialist without sending her for a colonoscopy, and by the time she had routine screening two years later, she was found to have cancer, which was terminal.
She died a year later, with independent medical experts concluding that had the cancer been found and treated when she first saw the specialist, she would have lived another 10 years at least alongside her loving family.
It is a heart-breaking case, and one which has left the lady’s devastated husband and other family members feeling not only angry with the specialist who let her down so badly, but also deeply regretting not having demanded a colonoscopy be carried out, as they still had concerns when she returned home without tests being done.
In what circumstances should I ask for a second opinion from a doctor or specialist?
When investigating cases of medical negligence on behalf of our clients, our teams at Hudgell Solicitors seek leading experts in the relevant area of care to give their opinions on the case from the patient’s records and medical notes.
Such evidence is key to whether negligence is proved or admitted, with cases often involving us consulting a number of fully independent experts to gain their opinions on the treatment received.
However, as a patient, you don’t need legal representation to ask for a second opinion, and although there is no legal right to receive one, it is actually very rare that a healthcare professional will refuse to refer you for one. A family member or carer can also request this on your behalf with your consent.
As the patient, you yourself will know when you feel unhappy with a diagnosis from a doctor or specialist, and this could be a time to consider asking for a second opinion, especially if you feel your doctor is not discussing it with you in enough detail, or making it fully understandable.
Equally, if you are not happy or convinced about the treatment being recommended, you should discuss this further with the GP or consultant, and if still not happy, seeking a second opinion could again be an option.
What should I be aware of when seeking a second opinion?
Seeking a second opinion may mean you have to wait to be seen by somebody new, and you may need to travel to see a consultant at a different hospital, so this could lead to a delay in your treatment, something which would need serious consideration if diagnosed with a serious condition.
Also, if you’d like a second opinion after seeing a consultant, you will need to return to your GP and ask them to refer you to a new consultant. They will be informed that they are providing a second opinion, and will be sent relevant details such as any x-rays previously taken.
Don’t have doubts, get all the answers you or your loved one needs
Medical misdiagnosis can impact upon a person, their family and loved ones for years after the event, so it is important as the family, or friend of a loved one, to make sure they have asked the relevant questions and are fully reassured over their condition.
Don’t leave doubts in your mind, whether it be over your health and treatment of that of someone close to you, and don’t simply seek the ‘good news’. Seek answers to all matters that are playing on your mind, and if extra medical or legal opinions would help reassure, take up that option for extra support.