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Second Opinions 101

How To Arrange For A Second Opinion On A Timely Basis

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Time may be short to wait for a second opinion before starting treatment, but even in the most difficult situation, you will probably have at least a few days to get a second opinion. Here's how to do it.

  • Step 1.  As you will note in our section about telling doctors you want a second opinion, it is advisable to let your doctor know you want a second opinion rather than getting a second opinion without letting him or her know. Some patients are needlessly concerned that their doctor may be offended by the request to see someone else. The request should not offend him or her. In fact, most doctors are pleased to receive additional input from a second set of eyeballs. NOTE: It is a red flag if your doctor discourages you from getting a second opinion. See the document in "To Learn More" about red flags and whether to switch doctors.  
  • Step 2. Check your health insurance to find out if you are covered. 
    • If it isn't clear, contact your insurer - preferably through your doctor who may be able to explain the medical reason better. If you will make the call yourself, think about why you want a second opinion. Consider practising asking for a second opinion with the person who handles insurance in your doctor's office. Tell the insurer you need a second opinion, and ask what you need to do to be sure it is covered. 
    • If you have a managed care policy such as an HMO, you may need to get prior approval. For information about speaking with an HMO, and appealing if you are told "no", click here.  
    • NOTE: If your insurance will not cover a second opinion, consider paying for it yourself. It is your life that we're talking about. If money is a problem, see our document about being Uninsured and our document about dealing with what we call a financial crunch.
  • Step 3. Make an appointment with the doctor you wish to consult for a second opinion.
    • If there's a deadline, tell the person who books appointments for the doctor you want to see for a second opinion:
      • That you are seeking a second opinion and
      • That you have a short time frame because you have to make a decision right away.
    • If you can't get a timely appointment, ask your doctor or your doctor's office to call for you.  A call from a medical professional will carry more weight and may be able to shorten the waiting period until your appointment. For example, the doctor you're asking for an appointment may accommodate a request from another doctor by coming in earlier or staying later. 

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