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When Should You Get a Second Medical Opinion?

After getting an unusual, concerning, or unexpected diagnosis, you may wonder about the possibility of getting a second opinion. In the medical world, a second opinion is exactly what it sounds like—it’s an opportunity to get a diagnosis, evaluation, or even treatment from a different physician, separate from your traditional provider. 

You may have mixed feelings about this, especially if you have a close relationship with your primary physician, or if you feel like you’re being paranoid. But a second opinion could save your life. 

How a Second Opinion Can Help You

First, understand that getting a second opinion could help you in several different ways. If you feel like you’re not getting an accurate diagnosis, or if you’re not getting the right treatment, a second opinion could spare you from being a victim of medical malpractice. If you’re facing the prospect of a risky or invasive treatment plan, a second opinion could present you with a different potential option. 

Even if the second opinion comes back the same as the first, a second opinion can help you in two ways. First, it could help you understand your condition and/or prospective treatment in a fuller, more complete way. Second, it could help you feel better about your diagnosis; if two people are in agreement on the issue, it’s more likely to be accurate, or the “correct” course of action. 

When to Get a Second Opinion 

There are several conditions that could prompt you to try and get a second opinion, such as: 

  • Seeing little to no progress. First, you may be seeing little to no progress with your existing treatment plan. If your doctor recommended a specific prescription drug, or a type of physical therapy, or some other mode of treatment, but you’re still seeing symptoms, it may be wise to get someone else’s opinion. Note that not all first courses of treatment will work effectively, but at some point, your doctor should recommend an alternative approach. 
  • Getting a rare diagnosis. You should also be suspicious if you get a diagnosis for a rare disease. Obviously, the chances of you having a rare disease are slim, and the tests for such diseases may be somewhat unreliable. Getting a second opinion and getting a second diagnosis for the rare disease will make it incredibly unlikely that it’s a mere statistical anomaly. 
  • Getting a cancer diagnosis. Similarly, you’ll want a second opinion if you get a cancer diagnosis. Cancer can be tricky to identify, and doctors sometimes have to use a mix of technology, experience, and instinct to judge it—not to mention setting a treatment plan. Be sure you see multiple specialists before you resolve to follow a specific course. 
  • Facing a risky or dangerous treatment plan. It’s wise to get a second opinion if you’re facing an invasive, dangerous, or otherwise concerning treatment plan. If your doctor is recommending major surgery or something similarly drastic, you’ll want some backup to demonstrate that this is truly the best way to go. 
  • Not understanding what’s happening. If you have trouble understanding your doctor, or if you don’t trust what they’re saying, get a second opinion. Another doctor may be able to explain it to you better, or in a way that makes you more comfortable. 
  • Feeling like something is “off.” Finally, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion based on gut instinct alone. If you feel like anything is “off” about this diagnosis or treatment, visit someone else. 

How to Ask for a Second Opinion

So how do you ask for a second opinion without seeming like a demanding patient, and without offending your current doctor? 

For starters, don’t worry about offending your current doctor. Educated, experienced doctors understand the value of a second opinion; they know that even the best doctors in the world aren’t perfect, and that another expert’s opinion could be exactly what you need. They may even recommend you get a second opinion themselves. And if they warn you not to get a second opinion, that’s even more reason to suspect you may not be getting the best possible care. 

You also don’t have to ask your doctor for a second opinion. Instead, you can go straight to making another appointment with another physician. Just make sure you check with your insurance policy to see if and how second opinions are covered. 

Getting a second opinion is more commonplace and more important than most people think. If you’re not sure you’re getting the best treatment, or if you’re facing something risky, high-stakes, or expensive, it’s vital to get someone else’s expert assessment in the mix. Never be afraid to follow up on your instincts, or double check to make sure you’re getting what you need.