Many people facing the prospect of surgery or diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, feel a sense of urgency about jumping right in and starting treatment immediately. In most cases, however, there’s time to do some research to make sure your diagnosis is correct, and your treatment plan makes sense — and this may include getting a second opinion.
When it comes to buying a new car, home or other major purchase, savvy consumers comparison shop. So, why shouldn’t you do the same for your health?
The Value of a Second Opinion
Whether a surgery or a life-threatening diagnosis, there is nothing lost by visiting another doctor just to make sure that the first doctor’s opinion is correct. You should feel confident that you have chosen the most appropriate treatment for your situation.
“There are some situations where someone absolutely needs a surgery or treatment, but there are plenty that are more elective,” said Serign Marong, MD, a family medicine physician at Banner - University Medicine North in Tucson, AZ. “If you aren’t comfortable with the first opinion, then you should get a second opinion, so you have something to compare."
Having a second opinion can help answer questions like:
- Is the diagnosis appropriate and/or accurate?
- Are there less invasive procedures or treatment therapies available?
- What are the pros and cons of each? How well does each treatment or test work?
- What are my goals for treatment?
How to Get a Second Opinion
Most doctors will welcome a second opinion and shouldn’t be offended when a patient asks for one. Ask your doctor for the name of another expert, preferably someone outside of their practice. Explain that this is how you like to make big medical decisions. A good doctor should understand your need to be well-informed. But if they don’t, that might be a sign.
If you aren’t comfortable asking your doctor, check with your insurance company, consult with your primary care physician or ask trusted friends and family.
Here are some steps for getting a second opinion:
- Make sure your insurance company covers second opinions. You might be surprised to know that for some surgeries or diagnoses, a second opinion might be required by your insurer.
- Schedule a visit with the second doctor.
- Send the second doctor all your medical records, including imaging and labwork results, before the appointment so they can have a complete picture.
- Bring your questions with you and take notes. It may even help to have a loved one or family member with you for the appointment who can share what they hear or observe.
What to Do with the Second Opinion
Health care is rapidly evolving, which means there may be several approaches to diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, not every doctor will have the same opinion with regard to diseases and possible treatments. Some may prefer to monitor the situation and use less aggressive procedures, while other doctors like to use more aggressive treatment methods from the beginning.
If the second doctor agrees with the first, your decision should be clearer. At that point, you can go with the specialist you feel most comfortable with.
But what happens if the second doctor disagrees, or the doctor agrees but the news is difficult to accept? You may feel discouraged and confused, but this is a great time for you to loop in your primary care doctor.
“As a family doctor, I get asked by my patients all the time if they should go forward with a recommended surgery or treatment,” Dr. Marong said. “I can help my patients navigate the situation and decision. And in other cases, I can attempt to help them accept a situation they may or may not have been planning on.”
Bottom line: The decision for treatment or care is your choice to make. However, getting a second opinion, especially when you’re faced with a tough health care decision, can provide you with reassurance, peace of mind and confidence that you are making the best choice for your health.
Need a Second Opinion?
Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health specialist. To find a specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.