There are many reasons why you should seek a second opinion. A second opinion can help you:
- Make sure your diagnosis is accurate, lowering your risk of misdiagnosis and the harms that can cause.
- Ensure that you’re choosing an appropriate, evidence-based treatment that has been shown to achieve better outcomes.
- Learn about all appropriate treatment options, both medical and surgical, so you can make an informed decision.
One study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic highlights the benefits of second opinions, especially for people diagnosed with complex health issues. The researchers discovered that around 88 percent of patients with complex conditions who got second opinions at the hospital received a new or refined diagnosis that changed their treatment plan. For 21 percent of those patients, the diagnoses were completely changed.
Six situations when you should consider getting a second opinion
It’s prudent to get a second opinion when:
- You’ve been diagnosed with a serious or complex health problem like advanced cancer or multiple sclerosis.
- You’ve received a recommendation for non-emergency surgery, such as surgery for back or neck pain.
- You’ve been diagnosed with a rare condition.
- Your doctor hasn’t been able to reach a definitive diagnosis.
- There’s more than one appropriate effective treatment for your condition.
- Your doctor does not take your questions, concerns, or symptoms seriously.
Roadblocks to getting a second opinion
There are several roadblocks people encounter that may keep them from getting the second opinions they need to confirm or change their diagnosis and/or treatment plan:
They’re concerned they don’t have time to get a second opinion. A serious diagnosis such as cancer often makes people feel they need to start treatment right away to achieve the best outcome. In most cases, however, unless your condition is an emergency, you can safely take the time to get a second opinion. In fact, studies have found significant benefits for cancer patients who get second opinions. One study discovered that 43 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer who sought a second opinion at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center with tumor board had a change in diagnosis. Another study of people with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma found that a second opinion impacted the staging of their cancer, changing the staging for 36 percent of patients, which can affect the choice of treatment.
They don’t know how to get a second opinion. When you’re already stressed and anxious, it can be overwhelming to take on the task of finding and vetting specialists who can provide a second opinion. It can also be difficult to judge a doctor’s level of experience and the quality of his or her outcomes. Check to see if your employer or your insurance provider offer a second opinion benefit. These programs can connect you with vetted specialists for a second opinion and can guide you through the process of seeking a second opinion.
They’re worried they’ll have to travel to get a second opinion. Traveling to another city or state to a center of excellence for a second opinion from a physician who has experience and expertise in treating your condition isn’t necessary in most cases, thanks to remote or virtual second opinions. Remote second opinions can be delivered two ways. For a written remote second opinion, you share your medical records with the specialists, who review them and provide you with a written report that includes their recommendations. The second format is a virtual second opinion. This approach includes a video consultation with the specialist and, in some cases, a virtual appointment to discuss the recommendations and answer your questions.
They think getting a second opinion will upset their original physician. If your physician reacts negatively when you tell him or her you’d like to seek a second opinion, that can be a red flag that signals you should switch doctors. Second opinions are a common, accepted medical practice, and most doctors understand the value of a second opinion as part of the process of informed, shared decision-making. It’s rare for a doctor to discourage a second opinion. The only reason for recommending against seeking a second opinion is if the current stage of your disease means you need immediate treatment.
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