Traditionally, in the UK, people have shied away from challenging the medical expertise of their consultant or senior medical practitioner, however with increasing publicity about the benefits and availability of second opinions, people are becoming more comfortable about asking for a second opinion on either a diagnosis or treatment.
In this knowledge, employers have started to add Second Medical Opinion (SMO) services in to the employee benefits mix via healthcare, group risk and other insurance schemes and employee benefits. Not only does this demonstrate a duty of care to the employee and their family, but they can be highly valued.
Our referral data shows that over a five-year period, one in ten of SMO cases is in fact for a child with the most common reason for seeking an SMO being orthopaedic conditions (28 per cent), followed by mental health. In children, mental health is also the most commonly referred condition.
In the majority of cases (80 per cent) the initial diagnosis was confirmed; however, of those whose diagnosis remained the same, nearly half, 46%, recommended a change in medication or treatment. A different diagnosis was suggested in 19 per cent.
It can be particularly worrying for employees dealing with the ill-health of a child, and having access to an SMO can be a great support, either providing peace of mind that the original diagnosis was correct, options for treatment or medication, or a change in diagnosis. Equally important is that the family is supported throughout the process and beyond.
As mental health moves up the corporate agenda, it is expected that there would be an increase in referrals for support. However, few employers fully understand the benefits of offering access to an SMO in cases of mental health. Those dealing with a mental health issue need very specific support initially and help navigating the NHS to cope with the long-term consequences.
Worries wider than the condition
Being able to offer employees and their families the opportunity to fully understand their condition and the options for treating it is hugely valued. However, once the treatment is underway, employees then tend to be faced with a whole range of other questions about their future, their employment and their finances, not to mention the toll on individuals and families emotionally. So it’s important that the clinical diagnosis can be partnered with additional medical and emotional support from a health professional who can provide pre- and post-consultation advice and long-term support.
Having a professional third party on hand to listen and provide guidance on these non-core medical matters, including offering tailored mental health support, can be crucial in ensuring the person has a positive state of mind during preparation for the appointment, as well as coming to terms with the outcome, treatment options and long-term impact. And this is just as important for both the patient and their family or carer.
It is not uncommon for the individual to also need further tests – privately or via the NHS – and a health professional can help navigate such routes and join up the dots. It’s also important they have the knowledge to suggest additional therapies to compliment a medical diagnosis to help with side-effects of treatment, such as acupuncture, reiki, reflexology, dietician, hypnotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen.
Some employers choose to offer SMO as a separate service and others include it within a scheme alongside other medical support within a group insurance product or membership package, for example. Similarly, some allow the service to be accessed on an ongoing basis, and for others it is available at point of claim.
Of course, anyone can ask for a second medical opinion via the NHS but this could take time to arrange which may ultimately delay treatment. In addition, some people feel awkward asking one NHS consultant to review the advice of another and so may not pursue an SMO when it might be in their best interests to do so. Lots of employees feel more at ease if they are able to seek an SMO from a separate healthcare provider at a different location with support and guidance before and after, which is why an employee-sponsored scheme can be particularly beneficial.
Having concerns about the health of a child can be more distracting for an adult employee than worrying about their own medical issues and so it stands to reason that increasing numbers of employers are including a family-wide second medical opinion service within their benefits programme. It allows staff to have peace of mind that whatever serious medical problems arise for themselves or their loved ones, they can quickly access a face-to-face medical opinion from a consultant specialist in the UK.
Christine Husbands, Managing Director, RedArc Nurses