A medical second opinion is an expert clinical case evaluation requested by a colleague for a patient already under specialist care. There is no literature on the provision for second opinions in psychiatric practice other than those relating to the Mental Health Act 1983, and the availability of clinics offering second opinions varies greatly from one area to another. We undertook a survey of an expert second opinion service in Leeds over the period 1988–2000 and examined the case notes of 103 referred patients, of whom 71 were included in the analysis data.
In the majority of cases diagnoses were not changed, but alternative treatment strategies were suggested. The exception was for patients with a diagnosis of personality disorder, in whom neither a new diagnosis nor alternative management was commonly suggested. Half of the assessments were completed in a single visit, but a substantial minority required further evaluation as outpatients, close follow-up or even hospital admission for detailed review.
We believe that a second opinion service offers clinicians valuable support and expertise, especially in sector psychiatry. Evidence presented suggests that further therapeutic options are available for many patients regarded as ‘difficult to treat’. In some cases this may involve a period of observation free of all psychotropic medication. As in other specialities, psychiatrists should be aware of the value of further advice for patients with particularly refractory or unusual disorders.
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