From chicken bone to cancer treatment

She learned the value of second opinions when her two-year-old son got a chicken bone lodged in his lung

In 2007, Harvard Medical School graduate Nikki Gordon Skovby had an experience that, four years later, led to her founding Global Medical Intelligence (GMI), a Copenhagen-based medical advisory firm that, among other things, facilitates second opinions for patients living in Denmark.

Skovby was traveling around the world with her family when her two-year-old son swallowed a chicken bone, which obstructed his lung and caused him to wheeze and cough excessively.

His symptoms were diagnosed as asthma, but Skovby wasn’t satisfied and picked up the phone to her old Harvard colleagues.

“Their input gave me the knowledge to start asking the right questions and ensure that the proper diagnostic work-up was being done,” she explained.

This led to the correct diagnosis being made and subsequent treatment, which saved a lobe of Skovby's son's lung.

“My son survived because I had the privilege of knowing who to call to find the right people to take care of him,” she continued.

“It felt completely natural to turn this into a service that could help people get the best healthcare possible when they’re ill.”

Shortcoming of Danish healthcare?
Second opinions are not very popular in the revered Danish healthcare system, even for sufferers of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer.

Contrary to common practice in the US, Skovby’s home country, patients in Denmark generally go with the word of their state-appointed general practitioner or referred specialist.

“A patient-initiated second opinion for critical review of their treatment is not part of the culture of medicine in Denmark and it is not built into the public system," she explained.

"If you want a second opinion you have to do it privately: either paying out of pocket or through your insurance company.”

There is the option of a ‘second opinion scheme’ – an initiative started in 2003 that covers patients seeking additional treatment outside the country –  but this is only available after an expert panel has determined that they cannot find similar treatment within Denmark. 

Helping foreigners
Another service of GMI is targeted at foreigners who may find it difficult to navigate the Danish healthcare system.

According to Skovby, significant cuts in Danish healthcare over the past few years have resulted in doctors seeming to have less time to talk with their patients. Appointments with specialists are often scheduled for just 10 minutes.

“A significant part of the second opinion is asking the right questions to the right person,” Skovby explained.

“We spend a significant amount of time helping our clients formulate the questions that they have and advising them as to questions they should be asking given their particular illness and treatment program”.

International treatment
In addition, GMI helps these foreigners by translating medical documents so cases can be assessed overseas, for example in the States, where there are many more specialised cancer research centres, such as the Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic .

Skovby often helps patients to get a thorough, multi-perspective diagnosis from the States, then assists them in getting treatment in Germany, as it is much cheaper than in the USA.

Her clients are responding very positively to her services. One prostate cancer patient was fed up with the Danish system and contacted Skovby.

“My doctor in Denmark was very pessimistic about my prognosis and I opted for a second opinion,” he said.

He had heard about GMI from a friend and contacted Skovby to get help getting a second opinion from the States.

“Her thoroughness through the whole process, her positive thinking and the feedback I had from the second opinions have made me able to challenge my doctors in the Danish hospital system and get the absolute best possible help,” he continued.

“I’m now feeling stronger than ever, thanks to her help and encouragement.”

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