The guidelines for identifying a primary doctor should be useful in selecting a doctor to contact for a second opinion. But be sure not to overlook one of the best available sources of referral: your own doctor.
In telephoning another doctor for an appointment, make you interest in getting a second opinion clear: state that a second opinion is required; explain briefly your suspected condition or current symptoms; and inquire about the particular type of medical records and test results you should bring with you.
Second doctor’s recommendation conflicts with the first doctor’s diagnosis
In seeking a second opinion, a patient often, and understandably, hopes to quell his fears. Perhaps the second doctor will tell you it’s all a mistake; perhaps he will settle your doubts by telling you your first doctor was 100 percent correct. Neither medical fact nor medical advice is likely, however, to be so consistently clear-cut. A second opinion may or may not concur with a first; it may, in fact, introduce new elements to the equation.
One doctor for example, might unequivocally recommend a coronary bypass; a second might recommend a particular course of treatment with drugs. One surgeon might argue for a mastectomy for a tumor of the breast, a second for a far less radical lumpectomy. To the untrained layman (and vulnerable patient) such alternatives can be as difficult to negotiate as unmarked highway. Short of tossing a coin or trying for a third opinion (conceivably complicating the issue even further), you, the patient, must finally choose yourself, on the basis of the best information you can gather. Insist that any doctor you consult backs his specific recommendations with explanations that you can understand and, if possible, that he supplies you with carefully selected medical literature that supports and explains the position he advocates. In addition, spend time at your local library or through internet of thoroughly researching your condition yourself, discuss it frankly and openly with family and friends, then choose the option with which you feel least uncomfortable.
Financial value of second opinion
The financial value of a second opinion is likely to depend on what you think your peace of mind is worth, and also the relative seriousness of the illness. To seek a second opinion about a cancer diagnosis, disc surgery or a prophylactic (or elective) hysterectomy certainly makes sense. To seek one for strep throat probably does not. The choice is clearly up to you and your financial situation
When to get a second opinion
Although you may hesitate to seek a second opinion for fear of offending your doctor, there are circumstances in which a second opinion is completely justified. Discuss the matter openly with your doctor, who may even be able to recommend a consultant. Consider seeking the opinion of another physician if:
- Your doctor recommends surgery. A consultation with a second qualified surgeon is especially important if the operation is rare or complex, potentially life-threatening, perhaps unnecessary (for example, a hysterectomy or a gall bladder removal), or if alternatives to surgery exist.
- Your doctor diagnosis a rare, potentially fatal, or a serious chronic disease.
- Your doctor fails to make a diagnosis after a reasonable number of visits or if a battery of unusually complicated or expensive tests are proposed.
- Your symptoms persist despite treatment and without a satisfactory explanation from your doctor
- Your doctor attributes persistent symptoms to ‘nerves’ or ‘imagination’.
- Your doctor fails to explain to your satisfaction the risks and benefits of, and alternatives to, a proposed treatment or test.