Jack, a 50-year-old office worker, discovered a small lump on the side of his neck. He scheduled a visit with his primary care doctor, who examined the lump and ordered tests. When the tests results were in, Jack's doctor explained that the lump was pre-cancerous. Treatment options were to closely monitor the lump or have it surgically removed.
Explaining the pros and cons of each option, the doctor stated that, in his opinion, the best option would be to remove the lump. After asking his doctor a number of questions, Jack said he would like to take a few days to think about what to do. The doctor agreed and suggested that Jack consider getting a second opinion. In Jack's case, the second opinion confirmed the impression of his primary care doctor.
What if your doctor does not suggest that you seek out a second opinion? How do you determine whether your situation warrants one?
Unless your condition is life threatening and requires emergency care, it is never a bad idea to seek a second opinion. In many cases, seeking a second opinion is not only warranted, but necessary. These circumstances include anytime the following occurs:
What if you begin receiving treatment and then decide that you would like to get a second opinion? Is it too late? It is best to seek a second opinion soon after a condition or problem is diagnosed. However, it is never too late, even after treatment—with the exception of surgery—has begun.
Conditions that may require second opinions are usually complicated and poorly understood. If you seek a second opinion, find a doctor who specializes in the condition.
There may be a number of benefits to getting a second opinion, including:
Because medicine is not an exact science and many conditions can mimic the symptoms of other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult. As a result, getting a second opinion can be help make certain that the original diagnosis is correct.
You can ask your doctor for a referral. In most cases, a reputable doctor will welcome this request. But like many patients, you may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about asking your doctor for this type of referral. But, it is actually common for patients to get second opinions, so your doctor will not be surprised or insulted if you bring up this subject. The bottom line is that—if the circumstances warrant a second opinion—be sure you get one.
If you need to find a doctor on your own, you can try:
In addition, before making an appointment, check the doctor's background and training. Websites like the American Medical Association and the American Board of Medical Specialties provide searchable databases of doctors who have met certain standards.
The cost of a second opinion depends on your health insurance plan and the doctor who you want to see.
Before scheduling an appointment for a second opinion, check with your insurer to see if they cover second opinions, and if so, what restrictions are in place. Some health plans require a second opinion and will pay for it in full. Others will pay for it if you seek a second opinion from a specialist within their health care or insurance network. If you are in a position where you have to pay out-of-pocket for a second opinion, the cost will vary depending on which specialist you see and whether tests need to be done.
This depends on your condition. In some cases, the doctor will want to conduct an independent exam and may order additional tests. Or, the doctor will be able to use the results that have already been collected to evaluate your condition, verify or disagree with the original diagnosis, and suggest a treatment plan for you.
To minimize wasting time and resources, make arrangements to hand deliver test results and a copy of your medical record to the doctor before your appointment.
This depends on you and the type of health insurance you have. If you would like to, you may be able to get treatment from the doctor who gave you a second opinion. Or, the specialist can guide the primary care physician on the treatment.
Agency for Health Care Policy and Research
American Medical Association
How to get a second opinion. US Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/second-opinion-how-to.pdf. Updated September 10, 2008. Accessed October 21, 2013.
Second opinions. Johns Hopkins Pathology website. Available at: http://pathology.jhu.edu/department/services/secondopinion.cfm. Accessed October 21, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2012 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.
What can we help you find?close ×