When it comes to your health, being rushed into decision making is rarely the best course of action. Unfortunately, being faced with critical or life altering conditions, such as cancer or serious illness often prompts patients to do just that. Understandably, there is a sense of urgency surrounding medical treatment when serious medical issues arise, and that natural pressure acts as a deterrent to seeking out a second – or third – opinion from a medical professional. However, taking proactive steps to fully understand your diagnosis, prognosis, and weigh the options for medical treatment by getting a second opinion is a crucial part of achieving the best outcome for your situation.
Asking for a second opinion as it relates to medical diagnosis or treatment should not be an uncomfortable task, but for the majority of patients, it never takes place. According to recent statistics, more than one third of adults within the United States never seek out the opinion of a second medical professional. Similarly, just under 10% of patients have a hard time fully understanding their diagnosis or prognosis. Taking the time to seek out a second opinion by consulting a medical professional who is not your primary doctor allows you the opportunity to confirm or refute the initial diagnosis, as well as uncover alternative treatment methods for your specific condition. To avoid delays in beginning treatment and your ultimate recovery, a second opinion should be done as soon as possible after the initial diagnosis or plan for treatment is provided.
When to Get a Second Opinion
Not all medical issues substantiate the need for a second opinion. For instance, a broken bone or a minor illness does not warrant the time or effort it may take to seek out an additional diagnosis or treatment plan; less severe illnesses or conditions are often straightforward enough that a single medical professional will offer up the most viable treatment options. However, more complex situations should prompt you to seek out the advice of another medical professional, including:
- Any diagnosis of a serious or life-threatening condition or disease
- Any time the diagnosis or prognosis is unclear
- Any time you are undergoing treatment where complications arise or your medical provider is unable to offer clear answers
As a patient going through any of these scenarios, obtaining a second opinion in a timely manner is incredibly beneficial, not only for your ongoing health but for your protection as well. A research carried out by a firm of medical solicitors revealed that 14% of medical claims within the UK are the result of information received from a secondary medical professional when obtaining a second opinion.
Informing your Doctor
One of the reasons keeping patients from seeking out the advice and counsel of a second medical professional is the perceived awkwardness that could arise with the initial doctor. In most cases, doctors welcome the idea of a second opinion and may even provide resources or referrals to help you get in contact with the right provider. However, this only takes place when you are upfront with your medical doctor on wanting a second opinion. Feel confident in sharing your concerns, and ask for assistance with obtaining a second opinion as you see fit. If you do receive a recommendation or referral for another doctor from your current provider, ensure that he or she is located in a different hospital system or other institution. This will ensure your second opinion is truly objective.
When asking your current doctor for a second opinion, you may want to begin that conversation with the following phrases:
- Prior to making a decision on treatment, I want to get a second opinion. Are you able to help with this?
- If you were given the same diagnosis, would you seek out the opinion of another doctor?
- I would like to speak with another doctor about my diagnosis/prognosis/treatment plan.
- Treatment for this condition is a big concern for me. To be sure I’m making the right decision, I want to consult another medical professional for a second opinion.
- My family suggests that I consult more than one doctor before starting treatment.
In addition to the help you can receive in garnering resources or referrals for second opinions, speaking with your doctor about your desire for additional advice is necessary from a logistical standpoint. Any other medical provider will need to be able to access your lab work, diagnosis notes and plan for treatment from your initial provider in order to make a sound recommendation. Being frank with your doctor will help alleviate any delays that could arise in obtaining your medical records and history.
Your Rights as a Patient
It is normal to be concerned that asking for a second opinion may create awkward tension between you and your current doctor, but as a patient, you have rights to control how you are treated. Obtaining a second opinion is one of your patient rights, and should not be taken lightly. In some instances, health coverage plans allow you to seek out the advice of a secondary medical professional in severe cases without too much of a hassle. Other plans may require more effort to ensure the second opinion is covered. If you feel you fall into one of the scenarios where a second opinion is warranted, be your own best advocate not only with your current doctor but with your health coverage plan as well.
Obtaining a second opinion is a crucial aspect of your overall healthcare, especially in situations where the initial diagnosis is severe or complications arise during treatment. The process does not need to be arduous or awkward, but instead should be an open conversation that leads to your best course of treatment. If you’re concerned about asking for a second opinion or sharing that desire with your provider, do your research beforehand. Gain an understanding of your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan, and plan to have an educated discussion with your doctor as soon as you are able. Your doctor should welcome that discussion, and can provide valuable resources that you may not be able to gather on your own.