Should I Get a Second Opinion?

Many people feel uncomfortable with questioning the authority or expertise of their physician. Some fear that they will receive worse care if they appear to be pushy or difficult patients. Others worry that their actions will be seen as a “betrayal” and could damage social ties they have with their doctor.

Gathering multiple opinions on your medical condition can be one of the most challenging decisions that a patient has to make. The following resources can help you with the process.

What’s at Stake in Getting a Second Opinion?

Two recent studies pinpoint what’s at stake in getting multiple medical opinions: changing the course of treatment; and getting a different diagnosis. In a University of Michigan study of breast cancer patients, more than half of them changed their treatment after getting a second opinion on their diagnosis from a “tumor board” of oncologists, surgeons and radiation experts. In a Johns Hopkins study of 6,000 cancer patients, researchers found that one to two of every 100 patients who sought a second opinion after a tumor biopsy had received a wrong diagnosis.

What Health Conditions Should I Get a Second Opinion For?

Second opinions can be sought for all sorts of conditions both minor and major. You might seek a second opinion to avoid a mistaken diagnosis, but the more likely scenario is that you seek multiple opinions to help you decide on a course of treatment with the best possible outcome and the best fit for your lifestyle and preferences.

How Do I Tell My Doctor I Want a Second Opinion?

The hardest part of seeking a second opinion can sometimes be finding the right words to discuss it with your doctor. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:

  • “Before we start treatment, I’d like to get a second opinion. Will you help me with that?”
  • “If you had my type of cancer, who would you see for a second opinion?”
  • “I think that I’d like to talk with another doctor to be sure that I have all my bases covered.”
  • “You know, this is a big decision for me, and I would like to talk with another expert or two so that I feel completely confident in our treatment plan.”
  • “My family insists that I get the opinions of a number of specialists before moving forward.”

Getting Second Opinions

Do a little research before seeking another opinion. This can help you decide which options might be best for you and make you feel more confident and less intimidated when you talk to your doctor about gathering other opinions.

Here are some resources to help you ask for and seek out a second opinion:

Resources reviewed June 2013

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What is Watchful Waiting?
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RESOURCES

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Plan for Your End of Life Care

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Make Good Treatment Decisions

Treatment may involve making important decisions. Here's advice on understanding your options, including watchful waiting and getting a second opinion. More

Seek Knowledge About Your Health

Advice on understanding your risk for disease(s) and finding online health information you can trust. More

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