Getting a medical second opinion can help you get better treatment and save money. Even though additional consultations are beneficial, you may feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the process. A recent study reported that 70% of Americans do not feel compelled to get a second opinion. These are some facts that may improve your odds.


General Principles to Keep in Mind

  1. Know when to get a second opinion. It’s often most valuable to consult a second physician in cases where the proposed treatment is risky or where the diagnosis is uncertain. The same holds true if you’re contemplating an experimental approach.
  2. Encourage open communication. Patient satisfaction depends on the quality of dialogue with your physician as well as their technical skills. Ensure you can talk openly and honestly. Observe whether each practitioner you see engages the rest of your care team.
  3. Be an informed patient. The Internet expands your options for reading up on your own case. Ask your doctor to recommend resources or check with your local librarian.
  4. Clarify your own priorities. Different individuals may prefer different approaches to the same health issues. Listen to your doctor but remain in charge of your own decisions.
  5. Learn how doctors work. It may help to know that doctors often ask each other for advice. Medical experts have different specialties and may stage conferences to share their perspectives.
  6. Appreciate different philosophies. Beyond issues of competency, physicians have their own individual style. Some are more conservative and traditional. Others are quicker to adopt the latest technology.
  7. Identify any misdiagnosis. Test results are sometimes wrong. Double checking can spot errors and spare you expensive and potentially harmful treatments.
  8. Understand the value of reassurance. Even if multiple doctors tell you the same thing, it’s worth the time and effort to talk with them all. It will boost your confidence.
  9. Avoid delays. Urgent action is sometimes required. You may be better off getting prompt care rather than shopping around.


Practical Steps

  1. Ask your doctor for recommendations. Your doctor probably knows a circle of specialists for referrals. Make this your starting point.
  2. Check your insurance. Many insurance plans encourage second opinions. See if they will cover the costs. Find out how much you’ll be charged for every office visit.
  3. Share your records. If you’re seeing a doctor for the first time, they’ll need your charts, test results and other paperwork in order to advise you. Be prepared to sign a consent form to enable sharing this information.
  4. Schedule a physical exam. You can get valuable information through the Internet and phone calls. However, you still need to see a doctor in person for a full check up.
  5. Visit a different institution. Each organization has its own culture. If you want an independent second opinion, try reaching out to a different hospital or group practice.
  6. Collect additional recommendations. There are many ways to track down other resources for second opinions. Ask family and friends for personal referrals. Call a teaching hospital to get more options.
  7. Write down important data. Bring a journal and a pen along to each medical appointment. Writing out questions in advance will help you to remember everything you want to cover. Taking notes will create a record of what each specialist has to say so you can reflect on it later.

You’ll probably need to make at least one important medical decision in your lifetime. A medical second opinion may improve your peace of mind and the quality of care that you receive.