How many times has someone told you, “You need to get a second opinion”? I would imagine that most of the time, you probably didn’t pursue one. Am I right?
Did you know that in general as many as 20% of patients are misdiagnosed and that in terms of diagnosing cancer, the numbers are far worse. For breast cancer, the chance of getting a correct diagnosis is about equal to a coin flip. I’ve ran multiple companies within the healthcare space and still didn’t know the numbers were so bleak.
When it comes to their health, people often don’t take the extra step to ensure they’re in good hands for a variety of reasons. From a time and process standpoint, telehealth technology is making tremendous strides to make patients’ lives easier. However, individuals need to take accountability for their own health and understanding how technology can support them in this quest is critical.
I always strongly encourage friends and family to get a second opinion from a Board-Certified specialist when it is warranted. Having been diagnosed with melanoma on my right cheek in the Spring of 2013, second opinions are near and dear to my heart.
As a cancer survivor, I’ve been thrilled to see the latest developments in digital pathology technology, otherwise known as telepathology. Previously, in order to diagnose cancer, the tissue of patients was biopsied and sent via snail mail for interpretation. By viewing a slide of the tissue under a microscope, a pathologist could provide a diagnostic report outlining the presence or absence of cancer cells. This entire process could take weeks and the storing and sharing of the tissue was arduous at best.
Digital pathology enables tissue to be digitized through images that are securely uploaded to the cloud and then shared with pathologists. This telepathology model promotes the use of second opinions because of the speed and ease in which patient case information is shared. From a speed prospective, once a digital pathology image is uploaded to the cloud, it can be accessed and interpreted by a pathologist in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks. Furthermore, the interpreting pathologist can reside anywhere in the world.
Especially as it relates to fast growing cancers, such as melanoma, the speed of intervention in the form of surgery and oncology can make a tremendous amount of difference. I know it did for me. For stage I melanoma, patients treated 30-39 days following biopsy have a 5% higher risk of dying than those treated within 30 days of being biopsied. Those individuals treated greater than 119 days following biopsy have a 41% higher risk.
“So what does this mean to me,” you ask?
It means that you should be relentless in your pursuit of pathology second opinions. I’ve found that most people or their loved ones know when a diagnosis doesn’t sound quite right. For severe pathology cases, a second opinion should most certainly be top of mind. It’s important to have a second set of expert eyes in the form of a Board-Certified pathologist or subspecialist reviewing your case. Having the right specialist involved is key, so do your research.
You should rest assured that today’s digital pathology technology supports your ability to get a second opinion from the most experienced and credentialed pathologists. Your provider should be able to quickly send the images of your tissue and corresponding report to the specialist of your choice. Worse case you are well within your rights to ask for electronic copies of this information. A good practice is to ask your doctor early in the process how your medical records can be accessed and shared with other providers.
The data is clear. Receiving second opinions in cancer diagnosis cases can be the difference between life and death. Through telepathology technology, the speed at which you can get a second opinion from the right pathologist is unprecedented. Remember, having optimal health means taking personal accountability, which includes being wise enough to get timely second opinions. You got this!