Seems everyone’s an expert these days, which can add to patients’ distress.
A woman is found to have an abnormal finding on a screening study. After shared decision making with a highly qualified specialist, she undergoes an excisional biopsy. At home, she calls a friend who’s a survivor to share the glorious news: “I’m really sore. But the final pathology indicates all the abnormal tissue is removed. No need for further treatment!”
Instead of receiving congratulations for the news and/or sympathy for the ongoing pain, she gets scolded: “You may have had surgery you didn’t need. Why didn’t you get a second opinion?”
Now, still in pain, the patient is wondering if she should doubt her decision and her doctors.
Three pieces of advice for responding to a friend who shares a medical update with you:
Please don’t offer your opinion about any decisions, unless asked for it.
Please recognize the limits of what you can possibly know about the best decisions if you…
are not a medical professional in that field
have not taken a medical history, performed an examination, reviewed the test results, discussed with him or her the options in the context of the patient’s risk-taking preferences
I’m a strong proponent of getting second (and third) opinions. Patients don’t always need them, especially for decisions about which diagnostic tests to run or if a biopsy is indicated—including excisional biopsies and lumpectomies. At times, the benefits of proceeding outweigh the potential benefits of getting additional opinions.