Mandatory second opinion surgical pathology at a large referral hospital

Cancer. 1999 Dec 1;86(11):2426-35.


Background: When patients are referred to one's own institution for therapy based on a histopathologic diagnosis rendered at another institution, many hospitals require a second opinion of the surgical pathology material. This quality assurance practice has been threatened in the era of managed care and cost containment.

Methods: The authors reviewed the impact of mandatory second opinion surgical pathology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Cases were collected prospectively over a 21-month period from April 1995 to December 1996. For the purposes of this study, a changed diagnosis was defined as a discordant diagnosis resulting in a major modification in therapy or prognosis. The majority of cases involved a change between benign and malignant or a major change in tumor classification. Changes involving a modification of tumor grade or stage were not included.

Results: Of 6171 cases reviewed, second opinion surgical pathology resulted in 86 changed diagnoses (1.4%). Compared with the entire group, 2 organ systems were significantly more likely to undergo a change in diagnosis: serosal surfaces (9. 5%) (P < 0.0001) and the female reproductive tract (5.1%) (P < 0. 0001). Organ systems that were not more likely to undergo a change in diagnosis than the group as a whole included the skin (2.9%); central nervous system (2.8%); breast (1.4%); genitourinary system (1.2%); gastrointestinal tract (1.2%); hematologic system (1.1%); ear, nose, and throat (1.0%); bone/soft tissue (0.9%); lung (0.6%); endocrine (0%); mediastinum (0%); and cardiovascular system (0%).

Conclusions: Second opinion surgical pathology can result in major therapeutic and prognostic modifications for patients sent to large referral hospitals. Although the overall percentage of affected cases is not large, the consistent rate of discrepant diagnosis uncovered by second opinion surgical pathology may have an enormous human and financial impact. Accordingly, the authors recommend that review of the original histologic material should be undertaken prior to the institution of a major therapeutic endeavor.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Hospitals, Teaching / standards
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Observer Variation
  • Pathology, Clinical / standards*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation*