Recently, my dentist told me I needed a procedure that would be extensive and painful. I would be unable to eat solid food for days -- perhaps weeks.
Alarmed, I sought a second opinion. I learned, to my relief, of another operation, equally effective but far less traumatic. Choosing that instead, I had minimal pain and even went out to dinner the night of the surgery.
Getting a second opinion can sometimes lead to a different diagnosis or treatment, as it did for me. Or, by reinforcing what you were originally told, it can give you peace of mind that you're on the right track.
Either way, second opinions are a good idea if you have a serious illness such as cancer, if you are uncomfortable with the recommended treatment -- or if your doctor isn't sure what's wrong.
Don't be afraid. Many people fear their doctor's reaction and hesitate. In fact, good doctors understand the value of second opinions and even welcome them. Tell your doctor what you're doing, and if he or she objects, consider this a red flag.
Check insurance. Check with your health plan to see whether it covers second opinions -- and how much you will have to pay if the doctor is outside your network.
Request your records. Get copies of all relevant medical records and test results from your doctor's office. You have a right to your records, though you may have to pay for copies. Ask well in advance; the process can sometimes take days or weeks. Send all records ahead, or take them with you to make it easier for the doctor providing the second opinion.
Seek a new perspective. Go to someone not connected to your doctor. Specialists from the same practice or hospital often think alike, so a doctor from another institution may be more likely to offer a different perspective. For a recommendation, check with your local medical society or family and friends. You can also ask a trusted physician who isn't involved in diagnosing or treating your condition.
Don't go alone. Take someone with you to the second doctor's appointment. People hear information differently, and it helps to have someone else's perspective.
Request the report. Ask about your pathology report, which describes the laboratory analysis of tissue, blood, or other substances from your body. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that 2% of all pathology reports at large medical centers are incorrect, which can lead to misdiagnoses and inappropriate treatments.
Start a paper trail. For your records, be sure to ask for a written report of the second opinion.
If you're not satisfied with the second opinion -- or receive conflicting advice and can't decide what course is best -- get a third. Keep seeking answers until you feel comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment. When it comes to your own body, you're the boss.