Are You Afraid to Ask for a Second Opinion?

Does the thought of getting a second opinion for something you’re facing freak you out a little bit?

Maybe your doctor is telling you to get surgery, or an invasive test, or a procedure you’re not sure you need.  Perhaps they’ve found cancer, and you’d like to know more about your options for next steps. Could be your 90-year-old mother is on a respirator and they want to do lung surgery. Should you sign for that? How do you know what to do?

Getting a second opinion for something significant or high risk is almSecond opinion 11.4.15ost never a bad idea. But when I talk to my friends about their healthcare concerns, even the most assertive people often stumble and stammer when they confront the possibility that they might have to tell their doctor they’d like to talk with someone else. To some people it feels like dating two people at once, or turning your back on a trusted friend.

They’re sometimes afraid they’ll anger their physician and injure that important relationship. Or they feel they just want clear direction, and getting diverse opinions will only serve to confuse them. They also might be overwhelmed with the question of how to find another physician, and worry about how to get their test results and medical record information transmitted from one doctor to the other.

Why bother with a second opinion? It can only benefit you. There really is no downside.  If the second or third healthcare provider agrees with your initial physician, then you may have more confidence in following the path first suggested. Sometimes, however, you’ll hear about another approach that appeals to you more or that data suggest is better for you.  You may discover you like the style or personality of another doctor, or you prefer the hospital where the other physician has privileges (is approved to do surgeries, procedures and see patients).

So how do you do it? You can tell your physician, “This is a really important decision for me and I appreciate everything you have told me. I’d like to take the time to get a second opinion.” Or you could say, “I understand there may be a few different ways to go from here. I trust you would understand that I would like to get a second opinion before making my decision about how to proceed.”  If your physician is not supportive of getting another doctor’s point of view, move on. Most doctors, if in your position, would absolutely get a second opinion for themselves or their family.

The next step is finding the right doctor to render that second opinion. There are a few ways to do this. You can talk with your physician, friends, and family. You can call a major medical center and ask for a physician experienced with treating people with your diagnosis or situation.

When you phone the second doctor’s office, tell them your situation, in brief, and ask them what information they would need from you and your current physician, and information they would like send before they see you (usually your physician’s recent notes on your condition, and sometimes your recent lab work,  xrays, MRI scans, biopsy slides or  results, etc.).  Then just ask your current physician’s staff to send them.

The time and effort you invest in a second opinion will serve you well. And it’s a step in the right direction, asserting your role as the ultimate decision maker about your health care.  

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About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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