Science + Tech

The importance of the second opinion

Our incredible brains consist of 100 billion neurons to perform exquisite cognitive functions such as interpreting, predicting, and responding to relevant stimuli. But that does not make problem-solving easy, particularly when it comes to patient care. Despite the brain’s power in processing information, it takes years of medical education, training, and interprofessional efforts to make accurate diagnoses and a reasonable treatment plan for a patient.

Given the expanded level of knowledge on the complexity of various states of health and disease and the numerous modalities of treatments, physicians can still make mistakes. These errors occur across all domains of medical fields. According to a 2015 study, some of the main sources of error in dentistry include failure to maintain patient records in adherence to regulations in retaining all data and other patient-related information; failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis; and failure to refer, which often leads to adverse consequences for the patient. 

Obtaining a second opinion can be beneficial in enhancing the accuracy of diagnosis and offering a more suitable treatment plan for the patient. 

Illustration credit: Parandis Kazemi

Artificial intelligence (AI) may help reduce provider errors in the future. A 2019 study points out that there has been some excitement about using AI in making medical decisions at the patient level. Some machine learning models are trained using patient data to estimate a current clinical state (diagnosis) and a future state (prognosis) with high confidence, according to a December 2021 study. Aside from diagnosis and treatment planning, AI could also enhance recordkeeping and suggest appropriate referrals in complex cases. 

In addition, teledentistry is a rapidly forming subset of telehealth that can take two forms: real-time consultation or store-and-forward. Real-time consult involves a videoconference between the dental professional and the patient at different locations. Store-and-forward involves gathering data to send to another site for evaluation. There are also teledentistry systems that can provide a second opinion. For example, Gambino et al. presented an intraoral camera for photo shooting and real-time video, which is transferred to an oral medicine expert via file transfer protocol. This system can be devoted to diagnosing and managing endodontic/oral surgery patients. 

There’s also the “Second Opinion Medical Network,” a consultation referral web that gathers a panel of specialists who offer decision support and help reevaluate a patient’s case and optimize the proposed treatment and prognosis to avoid unnecessary medical costs. The board of specialists consists of a group of experts in basic and translational sciences and a clinical team directly involved with diagnostic procedures. 

The second opinion in all medical domains, including dentistry, can serve as a valuable tool to provide additional information, clarification, and modification of the treatment plan, as stated in a 2005 study. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), each dentist has the sole ethical responsibility of protecting the patient from harm. Seeking an advisory opinion can help use other professionals’ special skills, knowledge, and experience or available technologies to ensure optimized health care delivery.  

~Parandis Kazemi, Minnesota ’25

Parandis Kazemi

Parandis Kazemi is a dentistry student at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Aside from being passionate about dentistry, she dedicates her time to advocating for equality of access for all students, enjoys writing and creating graphic designs, and is devoted to scientific communication.

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