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Second Opinions 101

When To Ask For A Second Opinion

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When It Is Advisable To Seek A Second Opinion

It is advisable to seek a second opinion at least in the following situations (Note that this list is to help you work through a decision. It is not meant to be definitive.)

  • Whenever you think you may need one. You know your body better than anyone. Trust your own instincts. For example, if you are told that all diagnostic testing is negative and you are "fine," but you still feel that something is "wrong," seek a second opinion.
  • No treatment is offered. Even if no cure is available for your situation, there may be a treatment that will prolong your life significantly and/or make you more comfortable.
  • A diagnosis is not certain. Your doctor doesn't know what is wrong with you.
  • If your diagnosis is not typical. The standard methods of describing a particular situation do not take into account every single factor that may be relevant. Each of us are unique.
  • You have more than one health condition which might make a "normal course of treatment" unusually risky or potentially more harmful to you.
  • There are several possible treatments and it is not clear which one is best for your situation.
  • If you are considering entering a clinical trial or taking a treatment outside the U.S. ("medical tourism").
  • If the news is very bad, or very good and you didn't expect it. There are times when errors occur, even at the best labs.
  • You are not happy with a recommended treatment and want to know if there are other treatments that could work for you. A second opinion helps assure that all options are considered. Also keep in mind that there are regional differences in the way medicine is practiced. A doctor in another part of the country may have a different treatment to recommend.
  • Before any major procedure such as surgery or chemotherapy.
  • Your doctor is not a speicalist in your health condition.
  • A doctor recommends that you get another opinion.
  • Your insurer requires a second opinion before obtaining treatment. If the company insists, and you don't comply, you may not be covered for the treatment.

When It May Be Worth Your While To Seek A Second Opinion (As above: this list is a general guide. It is not meant to be definitive.

Consider seeking a second opinion in the following situations:

  • Your doctor dismisses your concerns.
  • You are told that there is no hope or nothing else that can be done.
  • You are not getting better.
  • You do not have confidence in your doctor.
  • You live in a rural area and receive treatment at a small rural hospital. (Even if you live in a rural area, today's technology enables you to get a second opinion from afar.)
  • Your condition or symptoms haven't gotten better after a reasonable period of time.
  • You have unanswered questions or feel uncomfortable about your diagnosis or a recommended treatment.
  • You need reassurance that the original opinion was correct and that you have explored all of your options.
  • The recommended treatment has significant risks or side effects.
  • You think there may be other treatments or you are interested in possible treatment options your doctor is not familiar with or with which your doctor doesn't have a lot of experience.
  • You have several treatment options that may involve the expertise of different types of specialists. This situation is known as a "multi-disciplinary" approach because the doctors come from different specialties. (In medical jargon, specialties are known as "disciplines").
  • Your doctor has a financial interest in the test or treatment. For example:
    • The doctor has a financial interest in testing equipment like an MRI or a CT Scan.
    • An oncologist may have a financial interest in the treatment if he or she gives chemotherapy in the office. Giving chemotherapy in the office is a profit center because the doctor buys the drugs and resells them to you.

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