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Second Opinions: Why do I Need One and Where do I Start?

As consumers in America, we always seek second opinions when making major life decisions such as buying a house, purchasing a car or choosing a career. Why is it that we hesitate to seek out a second opinion when it comes to healthcare? Most often times patients tell me they are afraid their first doctor “will get mad.” This is so far from the truth and it is absolutely not the case. In reality, doctors themselves also seek out second opinions on various aspects of their education and practices. Another reality is that if your doctor “gets mad” because you want a second opinion, that IS NOT the right doctor for you. As a patient, you want a humble doctor that is not easily offended and will be understanding of your wishes. You are not in denial or being a difficult patient. You are a smart and empowered patient.

So when should you seek out a second opinion?

Not all care and treatments require a second opinion, however, you know your body better than any doctor. You must trust your gut feelings and if you feel uncomfortable with a doctor or their bedside manner, seek a second opinion. I recommend that you get a second opinion when:

  • you are diagnosed with cancer or a rare disease
  • surgery is recommended
  • a diagnosis or treatment is unclear
  • you’ve received treatment but symptoms continue
  • the recommended treatment is risky or has lifelong consequences

It is important to note that not all institutions and offices offer the same treatments. Medicine is always changing and there might be newer therapies offered at another doctor office that is not offered at yours.

How do you get a second opinion?

The first step is to tell your first doctor that you would like a second opinion in a professional, straight-forward way. You will then need to request a copy of your medical records from the first doctor. Make sure they include copies of all labs, radiology tests, and films. These will need to be presented to your second doctor to help save time and money on unnecessary duplicate testing. Most insurances will cover the cost of a second opinion, but call them to make sure before scheduling an appointment.

You can then start your search for a second specialist. If you don’t have one, ask your primary doctor for a recommendation. When you find that second doctor, there are some difficult questions you should ask. What are the alternatives? How many of these treatments have you done? What are the risks and possible complications? How long will this treatment take and how often do I need to make appointments? What is the success rate?

The goal of getting a second and third opinion is to get an accurate diagnosis as well as an appropriate treatment plan for you. With another opinion you will become more informed about what is available to you and you can make educated decisions about your healthcare and treatment plan. At the very least, you will gain peace of mind and confirmation of your diagnosis, or you could get a whole new diagnosis and a different treatment plan altogether. Either way, you owe it to your future self.