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Do You Need a Second Opinion?

One of the most confusing issues in managing your own medical care is when to get a second opinion.  This topic is further confused by whether insurance companies will cover the costs and how to tell which opinion is right when two opinions differ.  Some people even feel uncomfortable about asking for second opinions, worried that this will offend the first practitioner.

Rest assured that second opinions are a standard part of good medical practice.  Physicians often request "consults" from other colleagues or specialists themselves - these are simply second opinions.  How do you know when another opinion is necessary?

When the medical history, physical exam and lab findings all point to a definitive diagnosis for which the treatment is clear, a second opinion is not necessary.  Consider getting a second opinion when the diagnosis is not clear, when the diagnosis is rare, when the recommended treatment is risky or when it's necessary to choose between treatment options that vary greatly in their cost, risks and benefits.  Second opinions are very helpful when considering elective surgeries, experimental treatments or newer treatments for serious conditions.  Second opinions are also valuable if you are not responding to a treatment as expected.  Second opinions should also be sought if a patient loses confidence in the original practitioner.

Second opinions are best obtained by board certified physicians who specialize in your condition.  Referrals from your primary care physician are a good place to start, but there are many other sources of referral information.  Before your appointment, be sure that your relevant medical records and test results were sent to the consultant.  Occasionally, the second opinion may depend upon the results of an additional exam or other tests. 

If the opinions differ between physicians, the most important question for you to ask is why.

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Created: 2/12/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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