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Do you need a second opinion?

People diagnosed with a serious medical condition often want a second medical opinion but may be reluctant to say so to their doctor. After all, telling your doctor you want to see another physician can feel like you’re saying you don’t trust or value his or her judgment. But doctors understand that patients often need to seek an additional evaluation. Some even encourage their patients to get a second opinion, because a patient who feels comfortable about his or her treatment plan is more likely to be compliant with it—to take medication as directed, get necessary tests or adhere to a treatment schedule.

Although you may feel a sense of urgency about beginning treatment immediately with your doctor, it’s important to take the time you need to talk to another physician about your health status and treatment options. Seeking a second opinion can help you learn more about your illness and confirm your doctor’s proposed treatment plan. That can be especially significant when treatment involves a life-changing surgery such as a mastectomy or a procedure that may result in serious side effects. In fact, many health plans require that you get a second opinion before they’ll pay for treatment.

How do you get a second opinion?

Let your doctor know why you’d like to get a second opinion, whether it’s because your health plan requires it or you want to reassure yourself that you’re making the most informed treatment decisions possible. Ask your doctor to share your medical records and test results with the physician who will provide your second opinion. In fact, your doctor may be able to recommend someone. Be sure to check your insurance plan to see how many additional opinions are covered and whether you’re limited to choose from a specified list of physicians.

What should you ask?

Once you’ve chosen your second doctor, take the opportunity to ask him or her questions such as:

  • What is the standard treatment for my condition?
  • What treatment options do you suggest?
  • Is this the latest treatment available?
  • What are the risks, benefits and potential side effects of my treatment options?
  • Am I eligible for any clinical trials?
  • What are my chances for a remission or a recurrence?

Find out whether your second doctor is basing his or her recommendations on information that wasn’t available to the first physician, such as additional scans or a new pathology report. Also ask whether other physicians were involved in providing your second opinion. Sometimes doctors providing second opinions consult with colleagues or order a pathology or radiology review from an expert. If your doctors disagree, you may need to seek a third, or even fourth, opinion.

Before deciding your course of action, make sure you fully understand your condition and the treatment options and risks so you feel as confident as possible that you’re doing what’s best for your health and well-being.