Want a second opinion before surgery? Free service offered

(Appended Dec. 6, 2004; see editor’s note below)

There’s no denying it: Surgery can be scary.

No matter how experienced your surgeon is, learning that you need to undergo an operation can be daunting — particularly a major operation such as heart, lung or esophageal surgery.

That’s why the University’s cardiothoracic surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital just introduced a free second-opinion service for patients diagnosed with any heart, lung or esophageal condition for which surgery is recommended.

“Every patient has the right to a second opinion,” said Ralph J. Damiano Jr., M.D., the John Shoenberg Professor of Surgery and chief of cardiac surgery. “Our door is open to all patients because surgery is not a trivial decision.”

Getting a second opinion is always a good idea, particularly in today’s climate of information overload, according to Joel D. Cooper, M.D., the Evarts A. Graham Professor of Surgery and head of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

“Patients these days get a lot of information from a variety of sources, including the Internet,” he said. “It can leave them with confusing and conflicting opinions.

“If we confirm the original opinion they received, it gives them peace of mind; and in those cases where there are legitimate differences of opinion, it gives patients the opportunity to hear different approaches to treating their condition.”

The surgeons understand that the prospect of undergoing major surgery can provoke anxiety, so they are dedicated to providing a second opinion within 48 hours of receiving a patient’s medical records.

Typically, they can do so based solely on records, but if a patient prefers to be seen in person, the staff will ensure they can do so quickly.

University surgeons frequently treat complex cases, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital has the only cardiac and thoracic programs in Missouri and the eight surrounding states that consistently rank in the nation’s top 10.

The lung team is particularly well-known for its precise methods of cancer staging, which is the process of determining the severity of a tumor, according to G. Alexander Patterson, M.D., chief of thoracic surgery.

“We spend a lot of time and effort accurately staging our patients, and often those investigations turn up reasons that surgery is not the best option,” said Patterson, who also is the Joseph C. Bancroft Professor of Surgery. “Currently, when we provide a second opinion, as often as not, we make the judgment that the proposed operation is not a good idea based on information we get from the staging process.”

Some patients may feel uncomfortable seeking a second opinion because they’re afraid of offending their physician. But Damiano, Cooper and Patterson all agree — almost all physicians recognize the importance of a second opinion.

“I never take offense if a patient seeks another opinion,” Damiano said. “I feel the best patient is an educated, well-informed patient.”

The service is open to Missouri and Illinois residents.

To begin the second-opinion process, call toll-free (866) TOP-DOCS, and a cardiac or thoracic nurse practitioner will guide you through the process.

Editor’s note (Dec. 6, 2004): There is now a $50 charge for this service. For more information call toll-free (866) TOP-DOCS.