How to ask for a second opinion
You may want a second medical opinion when you have to make decisions about treatment options for a major health condition. Your doctor makes a diagnosis or suggests a treatment plan, but you want to have options. Here are tips for starting the conversation, going through the process, and making an informed decision.
You may feel awkward asking your doctor for a second opinion on their diagnosis or treatment plan. But wanting a second opinion is common, so don’t be embarrassed. Most doctors are used to patients wanting second opinions and won’t be offended.
You can start the conversation like this:
- I’d like to get a second opinion about this. Who do you recommend?
- Before starting this treatment, I would like a second opinion on my condition. Can you help me?
- Is there a specialist you recommend who can offer a second opinion?
- I want to make sure I know all my options. Is there another doctor I can see for a second opinion?
Talk to your insurance company. Once you have a conversation with your doctor, the next step is to talk to your insurance company. Ask if they will pay for a second opinion. Your current doctor can send your medical records to another medical professional for review.
You may need additional testing or blood work for another doctor to offer an opinion. Find out if your insurance covers those services. If possible, seek an opinion from another doctor within your insurance network. That saves you money on copays and your deductible over using someone who is out of your network.
Prepare for your visit. You can help by preparing all the necessary documents ahead of time. This may include:
- Pathology reports from a biopsy or surgery
- Operative report following a surgery
- Discharge summary from any hospitalizations
- Your current doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan
- All medications you use or have used for your condition
Making a decision. Ideally, the second opinion is in line with your current doctor’s recommendation. If the two opinions differ, you have several options:
- Ask each doctor why they think their plan is the best option
- Ask about your test results and what they mean
- Talk to your current doctor about the second opinion
- Ask if they follow a specific guideline, for example, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or National Cancer Institute
- Ask about other patients with a similar condition
- Request that the doctors review your case together
Talk to a third doctor. If the two opinions differ greatly, seek out a third opinion. No matter how serious your condition is, you want to take your time to feel confident you have the right diagnosis and treatment plan. You may have to look outside your immediate geographic area for someone who specializes in your needs.
Tips for specific health concerns
Cancer diagnosis. If you receive a cancer diagnosis, you may want a team of doctors to review your case. One study shows that 43% of patients received a different diagnosis after receiving a second opinion.
A pathologist should review your disease and make a recommendation based on their knowledge. You want to have a radiologist review imaging reports and offer their professional insight. Together, a team with specialized backgrounds can put their knowledge together to create a unique plan for you.
Surgery. Many people want to leave surgery as a last resort for treating a medical condition. For example, spinal issues often cause confusion for patients. You may need to consult with a variety of specialists, including:
- Orthopedic surgeons
- Physical therapists
- Pain specialists
You may get several opinions. After hearing each doctor’s reasoning, you can make an informed decision. While you may not be able to prevent surgery, you can take steps to improve your recovery time.
Rare conditions. If you have a very rare health condition, doctors in your area may not be sure how to manage and treat you. Be patient as you ask for additional opinions and find a specialist who understands your condition. A rare health condition can take months or even years to fully understand, manage, and treat.
Children. Pediatricians usually offer general care and refer to specialists for unique needs. You may need to monitor symptoms and note any changes over a period of time. Young children can’t always share exactly how they feel, making it difficult to diagnose some conditions. You may need to complete several tests and pursue different treatments before finding one that fits your child’s needs.
No matter what your circumstance, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You need to know the details of your condition and understand everything that goes along with it. Additional questions you can ask include:
- How many patients have you treated with this condition?
- How often do you perform these procedures?
- What complications could I face after the treatment or procedure?
- Are there any alternatives?
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American Cancer Society: "Getting a Second Opinion."
Medicare: "Getting a Second Opinion Before Surgery."
Yale Medicine: "Can a Second Opinion Make a Difference?"
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