88% of second opinions from Mayo physicians result in different or refined diagnosis, study finds

A number of patients referred to Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic for a diagnosis confirmation or second opinion found they were initially misdiagnosed, according to a study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 286 patients referred by primary care practices to Mayo Clinic's General Internal Medicine Division from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2010.

The study found only 12 percent of patients received confirmation of their previous diagnosis. A vast majority of patients (66 percent) found their diagnoses were "better defined/refined" after visiting Mayo, and 21 percent saw distinct differences between their final diagnoses and referral diagnoses, researchers said. According to Mayo, this means up to 88 percent patients left with a new or refined diagnosis.

"Effective and efficient treatment depends on the right diagnosis," James Naessens, Sc.D., head of the study's research team and a healthcare policy researcher at Mayo Clinic, said in a news release. "Knowing that more than one out of every five referral patients may be completely [and] incorrectly diagnosed is troubling — not only because of the safety risks for these patients prior to correct diagnosis, but also because of the patients we assume are not being referred at all."

In the release, he said the study also found "total diagnostic costs for cases resulting in a different final diagnosis were significantly higher than those for confirmed or refined diagnoses." However, he noted: "The alternative [to getting a second opinion] could be deadly."

Dr. Naessens said in the release he and his research team plan to continue looking into diagnostic errors and hope to find improvement measures.


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