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Second Opinions 101

How To Prepare For An Appointment For A Second Opinion

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There are a number of things you can do to maximize the effectiveness of your second opinion.

The following suggestions will help you prepare for, and make the most of your visit.

Step 1: Ask the second doctor's staff or the doctor what specific information will be needed. You may choose to obtain all of the necessary records for your second opinion or you may have your primary care doctor's office supply the information.

Records the doctor is likely to need include:

  • All the medical records from the doctor who made the suggestion for which you're seeking a second opinion.
  • All relevant lab, pathology, and radiology reports.
  • Original tests, not just reports about the tests. This includes pathology slides, x-rays, CT or MRI scans, and ultrasounds.
    • For tests you took other than blood work, the likelihood is your doctor only has reports about the tests - not the actual results. For instance, if you took a scan, the medical record likely has the report of the specialist who read the scan instead of a copy of the scan itself. If there was a biopsy, there would be a pathologists report rather than a slide of a sample. A top notch doctor will want to see the originals rather than a report. A different pair of eyes looking at the same scan or sample may see something different - or the first report may even be wrong. Mistakes happen.
    • If your doctor's office cannot get the originals quickly, call the lab or testing facility yourself. It is not unusual for labs and other testing facilities to ship scans and slides overnight. 
    • NOTE: 
      • Celeste M was told that it would take 5 days before her slides could be sent. When she pressed, she found out that if she went to the lab and waited, they would process the slide immediately and give it to her to overnight to the second opinion doctor's office. 
      • If you haven't determined the identity of the specialist for a second opinion when gathering this information, you hcan have it sent to your address or to another location where someone will be available to sign if needed. You can then forward the material when you have an address.

Step 2: Educate yourself about your diagnosis and current treatments. The more informed you are about these subjects:

  • You will have more of a foundation for asking the right questions.
  • The more precise your meetings with medical professionals will be because you will have more of an understanding of the words they use.
  • You will get a greater understanding of the doctor's advice or recommendations.
  • The better equipped you will be to make tough decisions.

Step 3: Make sure the second doctor's office receives a complete set of the requested information at before your appointment. Ideally the office should receive the information at least several days before your appointment so the doctor has time to review them. Of course this includesoriginals of scans and samples and copies of all of your relevant medical records. 

Step 4: Prepare a list of any questions to ask. See "To Learn More" for lists that you can use as a starting point.

Step 5. Do the normal prep you would do before any appointment with a new doctor. For instance:

  • Make sure your list of medications is up to date so you can give a copy to the doctor.
  • If you haven't already, create a personal medical history form listing your past diseases, operations etc. It will save time completing the doctor's form (or perhaps he or she will allow you to use yours).
  • Get a recorder to record the conversation if there isn't a recorder on your mobile phone. Witha recording, you can listen to what the doctor said more closely at home.
  • Look for a person to go with you to the meeting if possible. We call the person a patient advocate.
  • If you have insurance, be sure to have a copy of your insurance verification card and personal health history form.
  • Review the article, How To Prepare For An Appointment With A Doctor.

NOTE: A good second opinion must be based on an independent evaluation of your condition. If you see a second doctor (instead of working with one long distance), ask for a complete physical exam and evaluation. Doctors can learn a lot from a physical exam.

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