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When and how to seek a second opinion

It’s not rude to seek a second opinion. Here’s how to go about getting advice from another medical team.

When you’re facing a life-altering diagnosis like cancer, it’s worth it to seek out a second opinion. Even if you trust your diagnosing doctor, getting a second opinion will help you and your family make better-informed choices about your care — even if the second opinion is exactly the same as the first.

From Harvard Health Publishing

Benefits of seeking a second opinion

Even though it may feel overwhelming to go through the process of talking through your diagnosis yet again, the benefits usually far outweigh the negatives.

For example, you’ll likely look for someone who is a specialist in your type of cancer. By talking to a specialist in, say, breast cancer, you may gain access to information about new research or treatment options that didn’t come up in your original appointment.

Finally, you may find that you understand your cancer better simply by talking to a new medical team about it. In some cases, you may have a better connection to a second-opinion doctor, and might consider transferring your care to that medical facility.

What to know before you seek a second opinion

Don’t delay.

The best time to seek a second opinion is before you begin treatment, as it could impact your treatment plan.

Be honest with your original doctor.

It might seem awkward to bring up. Oncology doctors generally welcome having their patients seek second opinions, and may even encourage another expert’s thoughts on your case — or have suggestions for someone specific you should talk to. You’ll also need to coordinate with your original doctor to obtain your health records and pathology results.

Call your health insurance first.

Second opinions sometimes lead to less expensive tests and treatments, so insurers have good reason to allow — and even encourage — you getting a second opinion. Still, it’s worth calling your insurance provider before you set up an appointment, just to be sure the appointment is covered.

How to get a second opinion

There are several ways to gather more medical advice. You might start with your primary care doctor to get some guidance on how to proceed. He or she may refer you to someone with more experience treating your type of cancer. But if you want another expert opinion after consulting with an oncologist, ask him or her for a recommendation.

And remember, just because you went for a second opinion elsewhere doesn’t mean you’ve burned a bridge with your original oncologist.

After getting a second opinion, you can go back to your first doctor to discuss what you’ve learned, and explore the reasons for any differences in recommended next steps.

How to transfer your medical records

From Harvard Health Publishing

If you’re seeking a second opinion, you may need to request access to medical images or special records.


What happens if the second opinion is the same?

Usually, the doctor reviewing your case has special expertise in the suspected problem. With a complicated illness like cancer, a number of specialists (pathologists, radiologists) might be called on to offer a second opinion.

Sometimes a third, tie-breaking opinion is helpful in resolving conflicting advice, but going beyond that and getting too many opinions could cause harmful delays.

A second opinion might confirm a first diagnosis or treatment recommendation, but that doesn’t mean it was a waste.

If the two opinions agree, you can feel confident knowing that both medical teams are aligned on your diagnosis and proposed treatment. Also, a second opinion can be helpful just because another doctor may explain things in a way that’s easier for you to understand.

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