If you get a piece of medical advice that doesn’t sound quite right, or if you’re interested to know what someone else thinks, you might consider getting a second opinion. On the other hand, we often unconditionally trust our medical advisors, so we may be disinclined to seek a second opinion, or feel like we’re going behind their back when we seek one out.
So what’s the point in getting a second opinion, and under what conditions is it advisable?
Why Second Opinions Are Important
There are many reasons why a second opinion could be important to pursue:
- Medical negligence is more common than you think. Medical negligence happens all the time. If a doctor gives you bad advice, a bad recommendation, or if they incorrectly apply a treatment, it could result in further harm—or new conditions you didn’t have previously. Rather than assuming your doctor knows best and later facing the consequences, a second opinion could help you determine just how important—or correct—the initial recommendations were.
- Doctors can have very different perspectives. Two doctors may have very different perspectives on how to treat a specific condition. A younger doctor may have taken classes more recently, and have some more up-to-date information. An older doctor may have more hands-on experience, and more knowledge about which treatment methods work best. They may have differing opinions on how best to handle your case—and a third doctor may even break that tie.
- The costly or invasive option isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, a physician will recommend a treatment that’s expensive, invasive, or otherwise problematic for your life. This treatment could end up having a net negative effect on you, due to the financial and psychological impact, and it may not be the only option. Finding a second opinion can save you from the more invasive treatment, and still get you the help you need.
- There isn’t much to lose. Perhaps most importantly, there isn’t much to lose by asking for a second opinion. You’ll be out an hour or two of your time, and possibly the cost of booking an appointment with another physician, but your relationship with your current physician shouldn’t be affected, and you’ll have more information with which you can make a decision.
When to Get a Second Opinion
So when is it appropriate to get a second opinion? There are no rules for when you’re “allowed” to get a second opinion, so you can technically get one anytime you want, but it’s especially helpful if you get one in the following conditions:
- When the treatment is invasive, expensive, or lifelong. If you’ve learned that your primary physician is recommending a treatment that’s invasive, expensive, or lifelong, it’s going to have a massive impact on your life. If that’s the case, it pays to get a second opinion to learn if it’s really necessary, and if so, just how much of an impact it will have. Sometimes, there’s another option that’s better for you.
- When the recommendation contradicts what you know. You aren’t a medical professional, but that doesn’t mean that your knowledge doesn’t matter. If you’ve read online about a treatment that contradicts what your current doctor is telling you, that’s a pretty good reason to ask another doctor what they think. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean you should follow your own advice—it’s just a prompt to seek out an alternative professional opinion.
- When you just aren’t sure. If, for any reason, you aren’t confident in the diagnosis or treatment recommendation you’ve received, it’s okay to get another opinion. There doesn’t need to be a concrete motivation for it to be worth it.
- When your doctor discourages second opinions. Most doctors will welcome the idea of getting a second opinion, since it will either reinforce their recommendation or give the patient more options to choose from. If your doctor is vehement about not seeing another opinion, that should give you cause for concern. Seek out another opinion, and consider getting a new primary doctor.
How to Ask for a Second Opinion
When you’ve decided that it’s time to ask for a second opinion, all that’s left is to go through the motions of getting one. You can talk to your doctor first about it, but you certainly don’t have to. If you trust them, you may even ask them to make a recommendation for another physician.
If not, you can research physicians on your own. Look for people with different levels of experience or different perspectives, and talk to them openly about your first diagnosis. The more information you (and they) have to work with, the better your decision will ultimately be.