January 23, 2020
When you get a scary diagnosis or are told you need an invasive surgery, it is natural to feel intimidated by all the medical speak and all the decisions you have to make. How do you know if you are choosing the right treatment path? Is this first diagnosis the right one?
Only a small portion of Americans choose to get a second opinion, but most medical experts agree that it is an important part of empowering patients to take control of their health. Second opinions are more common with cancer diagnoses and surgeries like heart bypass and hysterectomy, but many patients could benefit from one.
According to Dr. Gregory Abel, a blood cancer specialist at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “If you have a doctor who would be offended by a second opinion, he or she is probably not the right doctor for you.”
Getting a second opinion can seriously impact your quality of life and save you time and money. Consider a case where you need surgery. If a less invasive procedure could be done as outpatient, you would have a quicker recovery and save money.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to find a doctor that specializes in your particular condition so you can feel more confident in all the treatment options being presented to you, especially if you were given a rare diagnosis. Sometimes it might also be a case where the diagnosis or treatment plan doesn’t seem right to you or you just don’t feel heard by your doctor. You need to gather as much information as you can both about your diagnosis and treatment options, and sometimes that means asking for a second or even third opinion.
If your doctor is telling you that you need surgery but you're not sure how it may impact your life, then besides talking to another doctor, you might also want to consult with a physical therapist and a physiatrist who assists with surgical rehabilitation to get a better sense of what to expect during your recovery. The more you know, the better decisions you can make.
According to Jonathan Schaffer, MD, MBA, orthopedic surgeon and Managing Director of the MyConsult Online Medical Second Opinion program, “some doctors as a practice will reach out to colleagues for opinions on their cases, especially when a colleague has experience particular to a patient’s case. New treatments are appearing very rapidly, and a doctor’s experience in complex cases matters; not all doctors have such experience.”
To get the most out of your second opinion, you need to be prepared for your appointment. Don’t be afraid to request all your medical records from your doctor to take to the specialist.
You also need to find out if your health insurance company will cover a second opinion. Many do and some even require one for certain procedures, but it is always best to double-check.
During your appointment, it is essential that you are honest when answering all questions, particularly about symptoms, pain level and your lifestyle choices like drinking and smoking. There is no reason to be embarrassed. The doctor needs every little detail to get the fullest picture of your situation. Keep in mind that because this new doctor will not know you as well as your primary physician, you must be clear about your priorities and anything in your past history that you think is important.
Also, listen very closely and take lots of notes. If you don’t understand something, keep asking questions until you do. It is important to be clear on what to expect as you start a treatment plan or prepare for surgery. Don’t leave the appointment unless you feel like you have full understanding. You can always call back later with any new questions that may pop up.
According to Dr. Schaffer, “Having additional information about your diagnosis and treatment can only be helpful. Most importantly, as a patient, it is your right to seek a medical second opinion. You are your own best advocate."
Remember that it doesn't matter what your medical condition is, you have a right to feel confident in your medical care. It is not only in life-threatening situations where second opinions can have a big impact on your health.