Finding answers and treatment plans for serious health problems can feel overwhelming. Sometimes another perspective can help you learn about your other options.
What Is a Second Opinion?
A second opinion means that you choose to see another doctor or specialist after you’ve received an initial diagnosis or treatment plan for a medical condition. The second doctor reviews your medical history and gives their interpretation of your health. They will give you their view on your diagnosis or treatment plan. They may suggest different treatment options than the first doctor you saw.
Your doctor is usually comfortable with your decision to get a second opinion. Getting a second opinion is a good idea when you have a medical issue. In fact, you might find that your general doctor will refer you to a specialist or encourage you to see another doctor before you even ask.
When Should You Get a Second Opinion?
Sometimes your health problems are straightforward, but there are other times when diagnosis and treatment are less clear. Getting a second opinion may helpful when:
- Your health insurance requires a second opinion.
- Your diagnosis isn’t clear.
- You have a lot of medical conditions.
- The treatment offered is experimental, controversial, or risky.
- You have a rare condition.
- You have a life-threatening condition.
- You have many treatments to choose from.
- You’re not responding to treatment.
- You feel like you can’t talk to your current doctor.
- Your doctor says they can’t help you or won’t treat you.
- Your doctor doesn't specialize in your condition.
- You want peace of mind.
If you need emergency treatment, don’t wait for a second opinion. A doctor at the emergency room will help give you the life-saving treatment you need.
How to Get a Second Opinion
The best place to start the process is with your general doctor. If they haven’t offered you a referral to a specialist, ask for one. If you’re already seeing a specialist, ask to see another doctor who has at least the same level of training and expertise and who isn’t their close peer.
If you feel you can’t ask your current doctor, there are other ways to get a second opinion. You can try:
- Asking your insurance provider to recommend a specialist
- Asking a local clinic for a recommendation
- Asking a local hospital for a recommendation
- Searching a medical association for a specialist near you
Also check with your insurance company to make sure your second opinion is covered and if there are any special instructions.
What to Say to Your Current Doctor
First, ask your doctor questions about your condition so that you understand what’s happening. Sometimes you might feel uneasy because you need more information, so don’t be afraid to ask more than once. If you need more time than your doctor usually gives you, ask the receptionist to help you schedule a longer appointment.
Your doctor knows that getting other professional opinions is a good practice and that you have a right to be informed of your options. They will likely support a second opinion, so it’s best to ask for it outright. Some examples of questions you can ask are:
- If you had this condition, is there another doctor you’d want to talk to about your options? Will you refer me?
- I’d like to see another doctor to cover my bases. Who would you recommend?
- I’d like to get a second opinion. Would you refer me to a specialist?
- Before starting treatment, I’d like to get another opinion. Would you help me?
You will need to ask for a copy of your medical records, including your doctor’s proposed treatment plan. By law, your doctor must give you a copy, but they might charge a fee. Sometimes you can ask to have them transferred directly to another doctor’s office, which might also cost a fee.
What to Ask Your Second Doctor
Once you get the appointment for the second opinion, decide what you want to know and what you hope to get from the appointment. Write down your questions before you go, and take them with you.
You might have specific questions that are related to your health problem, but some general questions you can ask include:
- What are my choices?
- What are the pros, cons, and risks of those choices?
- Is the diagnosis correct?
- What does this condition mean, and why does it happen?
- What will happen if I do nothing or if I wait?
- What would you plan for treatment?
After Your Second Opinion
Getting a second opinion can help you make better health decisions. If the second doctor agrees with the first, you may decide to return to your first doctor and move forward with your treatment. You can also ask your doctors to work together as a team. If their opinions are different, you can use the new information to help you make the best choice for you.