Second opinion for degenerative spinal conditions: An option or a necessity? A prospective observational study

Mario Lenza, Rachelle Buchbinder, Margaret P. Staples, Oscar F.P. Dos Santos, Reynaldo A. Brandt, Claudio L. Lottenberg, Miguel Cendoroglo, Mario Ferretti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Second opinions may improve quality of patient care. The primary objective of this study was to determine the concordance between first and second diagnoses and opinions regarding need for spinal surgery among patients with back or neck pain that have been recommended spinal surgery. Methods: We performed a prospective observational study of patients who had been recommended for spinal surgery and received a second opinion between May 2011 and May 2012 at the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein on the advice of their health insurance company. A physiatrist and orthopaedic surgeon independently performed the second assessment. If both agreed surgery was indicated, or consensus could not be reached, participants attended a spine review panel for a final recommendation. Descriptive analyses compared diagnoses and management plans of the first and second opinions. Results: Of 544 referred patients, 16 (2.9%) did not meet inclusion criteria, 43 (7.9%) refused participation and 485 were included. Diagnoses differed from the first opinion for 290 (59.8%). Diagnoses of cervical and lumbar radiculopathy were concordant in 36/99 (36.4%) and 116/234 (49.6%) respectively. The second opinion was for conservative treatment for 168 (34.6%) participants, 27 (5.6%) were not considered to have a spine condition, and 290 (59.8%) were referred to the review board. 60 participants did not attend the board review and therefore did not receive a final recommendation. Board review was conservative treatment for an additional 67 participants, 20 were not considered to have a spine condition and 143 participants were recommended surgery. Overall, 33.6% received a final opinion of surgery (143/425) although only 66 (15.5%) received the same surgical recommendation, 235 (55.3%) were advised to have conservative treatment, and 47 (11.1%) were not considered to have a spinal diagnosis. Conclusions: We found a large discordance between first and second opinions regarding diagnosis and need for spinal surgery. This suggests that obtaining a second opinion could reduce potentially unnecessary surgery. Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN07143259. Registered 21 November 2011.

Original languageEnglish
Article number354
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2017


  • Back pain [MeSH]
  • Operative [MeSH]
  • Referral and consultation [MeSH]
  • Spine [MeSH]
  • Surgical procedures
  • Unnecessary procedures [MeSH]

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