Whether you have had your doctor for many years and have a trusting relationship, or have a new doctor you don’t know very well, there may come a time when you need a second opinion. You should consider gettting a second opinion at any time during the care process, but you may want to have one before starting treatment, because a second opinion can affect your diagnosis, offer you other treatment options, or even change the course of your treatment.
Second Opinions—What and When
A second opinion means having a second medical professional evaluate your medical situation and give you an independent assessment of what is happening so you can feel more comfortable about your healthcare decisions. There are many good reasons for getting a second opinion including:
You were diagnosed with a medical condition, and you want another doctor to confirm the diagnosis or associated diagnostic tests, including pathology and radiology findings
You would like to see if there are different opinions on potential treatment options or approaches for your condition
Your insurance plan requires a second opinion to confirm a treatment option such as a surgery
You wish to be evaluated with a medical professional who may have more or different experiences dealing with your particular health issue
There Are No Wrong Reasons
Whatever the reason for the second opinion, it may help you feel more empowered and confident that you are choosing the right treatment plan. Getting a second opinion doesn’t mean you are unhappy with or “betraying” your doctor, it simply means you are having another doctor evaluate a particular medical problem.
Second opinions are often covered by your health insurance—but you have to check. Make sure to find out from your insurance provider how your coverage works for second opinions. Ask whether there are costs you will be responsible for. You should also ask if they will they pay for the office visit, and if you will have to pay for additional lab work, diagnostic tests or different treatments.
Preparing for the Second Opinion
Thinking ahead and doing a little prep work may make getting a second opinion a bit easier. For instance, you may want to:
Speak with your current doctor. Tell your current doctor that you are considering getting a second opinion and describe your reasoning. Some patients find this difficult, but many of the best doctors are open-minded and interested in getting other professional opinions too. This step is important so your primary care doctor can get the necessary medical records and patient history together to send to your other doctor. Remember, your primary care doctor may have to follow through on the results of the second opinion, so it is good to have him or her in the loop. In some situations, you may decide that you wish to keep the second opinion confidential from your primary doctor, which is a perfectly reasonable option.
Ask if your doctor can make a recommendation for a second opinion. Your doctor may recommend other doctors for the second opinion. In some cases, an online second opinion service may be an option for you. Keep in mind that some plans require a referral from your primary doctor, or that you see an in-network doctor.
Come prepared to the second opinion. Be prepared when you see a doctor for a second opinion. Ask your primary care doctor to send your medical records in advance of your consultation. Call ahead to make sure your records were received by the other doctor. Make a list of questions you want to ask considering your condition, and consider asking a friend or loved one to go with you to the appointment.
What to do with the Results of the Second Opinion
Be sure to follow up on the results of the opinion. Sometimes the most difficult part of the process is not getting the second opinion, but deciding what to do with the information you receive. Treatment options are not always black and white and you may get different opinions from different doctors. If you receive the same information that your first doctor originally offered, then two medical professionals have agreed on your treatment plan. But if the second opinion indicates a different diagnosis or course of action, you may need to do more research to decide which path to follow. You can ask both doctors to discuss your case to help come up with an agreed path forward or work with either of them to get more information.
There might even be a recommendation to get a third opinion. Just be aware that your insurance plan might not cover all of these visits. Also, no matter how many opinions you receive, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that the second opinion is the “best” approach. Because a second opinion is not a guarantee, it is important for you to continue to work with your healthcare team to make the most informed decisions possible about your medical care.
Rebecca Ashkenazy, MD is the Women’s and Men’s Health, US Medical Director, Pfizer Inc.