If you’re facing a major surgery, serious diagnosis or expensive recommended testing, get a second opinion – your physician should welcome that option.
Healthcare is as much art as it is science. Doctors base their clinical decisions on their education (medical school, publications, etc.) and their personal experiences. If they are unfamiliar with a procedure or the outcome data, they are naturally less likely to present that as an option to their patients. It’s only human nature. When it comes to you or your family’s health, you want to consider all of the options.
When should you get a second opinion on a medical diagnosis or treatment? And how do you go about doing that?
Most people, fortunately, don’t have experience with these questions. We do at Urology Associates, because we give second opinions all the time, and we have our medical opinions second-guessed, so to speak, by other physicians as well. Getting and giving second opinions is practicing good medicine.
Getting a second opinion for a patient could be life saving. It’s your right and often a very smart thing to do. Rule of thumb: if you have doubts about what you are told or if you just feel uncertain, get the second opinion.
No matter what the second opinion turns out to be, you’ll have greater peace of mind knowing you made the right decision for your health. You don’t want to have What If’s? bothering your thoughts as you fight your medical condition.
This is particularly true for cancer diagnoses and treatments. Urology Associates, as well as many other top institutions in the country, offers an online second opinion option. Many cancer patients, particularly prostate cancer patients, seek second opinions. At Urology Associates we offer this service at no charge.
When is a second opinion a good idea?
In general, consider getting a second opinion when your healthcare provider recommends a major surgery (non-emergency), test or treatment. Common reasons include the following.
- A diagnosis of a life-threatening condition, such as cancer
- Your insurer requires a second opinion
- The treatment recommended is risky or potentially harmful
- You no longer have faith in your physician and what he or she is telling you. This is tricky territory, but if you have confidence in doctor, you’ll know it.
- You have several medical problems and complications
- You have a choice of different treatment options or tests with very different costs.
Those are good reasons to get a second opinion. But many patients think, I can’t get a second opinion, I like my doctor and he will think I don’t trust him. Aside from situations in which you actually have lost trust, you shouldn’t worry about this. Most doctors want you to get a second opinion because it will validate their first opinion. And this is what happens most often.
Patients sometimes wonder if they should tell their doctor they are seeking a second opinion. For the reasons above, yes. For the practical reason that you will have to get your doctor’s office to hand over your medical records so you can show them to the second-opinion doctor, you will have to tell your doctor. (Law requires your physician to give you access to your records, though a fee may be involved.)
At the Urology Associates second opinion site, prostate cancer patients can use their most recent laboratory results to help complete a 10-minute questionnaire about their condition. A physician will review the information and provide you with a second opinion in just a couple of days. If you’d like to learn more, an in-office consultation will be needed.
Who to ask, what to ask them
If the second opinion is important – and it is – who gives you that opinion is just as important. You’ll want to go to a different institution because each provider has its own culture, which is often followed by all physicians. Different institutions have different approaches to medicine, which is good for a second opinion.
Seek a physician whose skill level and experience are just as good as, or better, than your current physician’s. Specialized providers, for example a cancer treatment center or cardiac center, are good options.
Okay, you’re all ready to go. So what do you ask?
- What choices do I have?
- What is the outcome data for each option?
- Is the diagnosis/treatment recommendation I have received correct in your opinion? Why or why not?
- What about my option of doing nothing? What might happen then? And please give me the worst-case and best-case scenarios.
- What should I do with the opinion you have given me?
Take notes during your second-opinion consultation. You may receive a written recap or it may be sent to your original provider for you.
The questions above are good ones to start with. Your first-opinion physician can also help you formulate a good list of questions. And if the second opinion agrees with the first, you can move forward with the first-opinion doctor.
If two opinions are better than one, are three opinions better than two? Sounds like it might be but most medical experts say two opinions are generally enough. It’s not a good idea to keep seeking opinions until you get the one you want to hear. You will probably never hear it.
However, if the two opinions disagree, you may want to seek a third opinion. Medicare and many insurers will pay for this if they determine it is needed. Your other option would be to go back to your first doctor and talk more about your condition. More discussion may clarify things and give you the peace of mind you need.