If your doctor tells you that you have a health problem or suggests a treatment for an illness or injury, you might want a second opinion. This is especially true when you're considering surgery or major procedures.
Asking another doctor to review your case can be useful for many reasons:
- Doctors have different styles. Some may be more likely to suggest surgery or other major treatments. Others may suggest a slower, wait-and-see approach. Getting a second opinion can help you weigh the pros and cons of their treatment plans.
- You can be well-informed before you make a health decision. Another opinion allows you to discuss your options with a qualified doctor. For example, you may have to choose between traditional or robotic surgery. It’s good to think about the benefits and risks of both types. Or you might be considering different types of cancer treatment and want to visit several hospitals. Or another doctor’s opinion might shed more light on your diagnosis. The extra opinions help you make educated decisions.
Sometimes, though, waiting for a second opinion can hurt your health. If your doctor
says you’re having an emergency, such as a severe injury or health crisis that needs treatment right away, you may need to skip the second opinion.
When getting another doctor’s opinion, keep these steps in mind:
Find out if it’s covered. Many health care plans cover second opinions, but it’s good to find out before you make an appointment. Medicare will help pay for a second opinion as long as it’s for a treatment that’s medically necessary.
But even if you have to pay out of pocket, the second opinion may be worth the cost.
Get a name. Ask your doctor to suggest another source for a second opinion, whether it’s a specific name or a facility.
Don’t be embarrassed about asking. It’s a common request, and your health is the most important thing. Most doctors will be happy to help you find another source.
You can also take these steps to look for a second doctor:
- Consult your state or local medical society.
- Check the web site of an area hospital for experts who treat cases like yours.
- Ask friends and family for names of people who may have faced something similar.
Share the facts. Ask your first doctor to send your test results and other records to the second doctor before your appointment. Call ahead to make sure the second doctor has received these records. This information can help you avoid needing to repeat any medical tests.
Prepare for the visit. Before you visit the second doctor, learn as much as you can about your situation, and try to determine the type treatment you want. You may want to:
- Learn more about your medical problem and its treatments from a credible source, such as a doctor or nonprofit organization that studies your condition.
- Write down the concerns that prompted you to get a second opinion so you can discuss them with the second doctor.
Bring a list of questions to your appointment. These might include:
- What are my options?
- What are the benefits and risks of my options?
- What happens if I choose to wait and not get treatment now?
- When do I need to make my choice?
Make your next move. Once you have a second opinion, you'll hopefully feel well-informed and more clear about the treatment plan and doctor that best meet your needs. Then you can decide the next step, whether it’s a surgery, cancer treatment, or medication choice.
Medicare.gov: “Getting a second opinion before surgery.”
Office on Women’s Health: “How to get a second opinion.”
Davidov, T. Surgery, December 2010.
Matasar, M.J. Annals of Oncology, January 2012.
American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, 4th edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.