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One doctor says you need surgery. Another says inoperable. Here’s what you can do:

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In 2002, 8-year-old Prince Ugochukwu (name changed) started having seizures and difficulty in speaking. The physician in Oyigbo couldn’t figure out what the problem was. When Prince was eventually taken to see a “specialist” in Port Harcourt, the specialist was of the opinion that Prince’s brain was inoperable and nothing could be done to improve his condition. Not convinced, Prince’s mother wanted a second opinion but didn’t know where she could enquire. It was by chance that she heard of an Indian surgeon who happened to be in Port Harcourt for a medical camp and decided to consult him. He advised immediate surgery to remove the problematic lesion from Prince’s brain as any further delay would put the child at a risk of permanent disability or death. The surgery was conducted at a leading hospital in India soon thereafter. Today at 22, Prince is a graduate student at University College London and hasn’t had a seizure since.

It’s a story familiar to many who are battling critical illnesses. Contradictory opinions create confusion and increase stress for already anxious patients who are trying to make life and death decisions. Without proper guidance, a single wrong choice can have lifelong emotional, physical and financial implications for patients & their families.

So, why does this happen? Aren’t “specialists” supposed to know the exact problem and agree on the best course of action? Turns out, it’s not that simple. There is a host of factors that affect the advice given to the patient by the doctor. These could range from the doctor’s area of specialty, his/her experience and expertise, the facilities available in the hospital, to vested commercial interests and other extraneous elements. Many or all of these factors could cause specialists to differ vastly in their judgment of risk versus benefit of a particular line of treatment due to implicit biases they create in their decision-making process. This also results in how different doctors might communicate different risks and benefits to their patient when talking about a potential treatment option.

Thus, your best bet as a patient is to seek more accurate information about the risks and benefits of a particular treatment, from an independent source. Explore all your treatment options, their risk factors, short and long term implications – on your employment, finances, social interactions, personal relations, etc. However, it is easier said than done. Friends and family are often incapable of deciding the best medical course of action and anecdotal information gathered from hearsay are also unreliable. The gamut of information available today on the internet adds to the noise, with every surgeon, every hospital and every “consultant” claiming to be the best in the world with little proof or means to verify their claims.

The best way out of this conundrum is to take the help of an Independent Health Advisor – Someone who helps you connect to the right doctor and right hospital anywhere in the world. If the right specialist is not available in your own country, your Health Advisor will connect you remotely via telemedicine to a super-specialist abroad, allowing you to get a second opinion from the comfort of your home. In case the super-specialist suggests a specific medicine not available in your area, your Health Advisor can also arrange for the same to be delivered to you. If surgery is advised, your advisor will arrange for multiple quotations and negotiate the lowest price for treatment. Once you decide to go abroad for treatment, your advisor helps you complete VISA formalities, book tickets, arrange for a transfer from the airport to the hospital, local accommodation and anything else you might need until the end of your treatment and even beyond, for your follow-up care. While such services do come at a price, they help you reclaim control of your health care, result in substantial cost savings, allow you to make informed choices confidently and do what is best for your health, which is truly priceless!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any governmental/other agency. Patient names have been changed to protect their identity. This article contains facts that have been obtained from reliable sources but may be subject to change with time. The author will not be responsible in any way for the comments given by reader/s.

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