Feature Archive

How to Ask for a Second Opinion

WebMD Feature

May 15, 2000 -- In an interview with WebMD, Jerome Groopman, MD, author of Second Opinions: Stories of Intuition and Choice in the Changing World of Medicine, summarizes valuable lessons from seven life-and-death stories.

WebMD: What situations demand a second opinion?

Groopman: Any time you have a very serious or life-threatening disease:

  • Where the treatment is very risky or toxic
  • Where the diagnosis is not clear, the treatment is experimental, or there is no established consensus or Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment
  • If you're considering participating in a trial for a new drug
  • If you're considering some new experimental approach or a procedure that involves using experimental instruments or devices.

WebMD: We all fear being the "demanding" patient. How should you ask for a second opinion?

Groopman: I think we all want to be polite and civil and don't want to spark an adversarial relationship. Yet, I feel very strongly that any time a patient raises the issue of a second opinion, a physician should welcome and endorse it.

WebMD: Should you always tell your doctor if you're seeking a second opinion?

Groopman: Absolutely. One, you need all the medical records and any pathology slides or other test results to give to whoever is giving the second opinion. Two, you want the experts to discuss in an open way what the areas of agreement and disagreement are. If you don't tell your doctor because you're afraid you're going to insult him, it's hard to get the records together and communicate.