Seeing Double

Second opinions increase your insight -- and peace of mind.

Recently, my dentist told me I needed a procedure that would be extensiveand 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 anotheroperation, equally effective but far less traumatic. Choosing that instead, Ihad minimal pain and even went out to dinner the night of the surgery.

Getting a second opinion can sometimes lead to a different diagnosis ortreatment, 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 illnesssuch as cancer, if you are uncomfortable with the recommended treatment -- orif your doctor isn't sure what's wrong.

Don't be afraid. Many people fear their doctor's reactionand hesitate. In fact, good doctors understand the value of second opinions andeven welcome them. Tell your doctor what you're doing, and if he or sheobjects, consider this a red flag.

Check insurance. Check with your health plan to see whetherit covers second opinions -- and how much you will have to pay if the doctor isoutside your network.

Request your records. Get copies of all relevant medicalrecords and test results from your doctor's office. You have a right to yourrecords, though you may have to pay for copies. Ask well in advance; theprocess can sometimes take days or weeks. Send all records ahead, or take themwith you to make it easier for the doctor providing the second opinion.

Seek a new perspective. Go to someone not connected to yourdoctor. Specialists from the same practice or hospital often think alike, so adoctor from another institution may be more likely to offer a differentperspective. For a recommendation, check with your local medical society orfamily and friends. You can also ask a trusted physician who isn't involved indiagnosing or treating your condition.

Don't go alone. Take someone with you to the seconddoctor's appointment. People hear information differently, and it helps to havesomeone else's perspective.

Request the report. Ask about your pathology report, whichdescribes the laboratory analysis of tissue, blood, or other substances fromyour body. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that 2% of all pathologyreports at large medical centers are incorrect, which can lead to misdiagnosesand inappropriate treatments.

Start a paper trail. For your records, be sure to ask for awritten report of the second opinion.

If you're not satisfied with the second opinion -- or receive conflictingadvice and can't decide what course is best -- get a third. Keep seekinganswers until you feel comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment. When itcomes to your own body, you're the boss.