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Get a Second Opinion

What’s a Second Opinion?

When you’re facing a tough healthcare decision, you may need help deciding what to do. Is surgery the answer? Is that expensive test the right choice? Is it best to get treatment now, or watch and wait?

To answer questions like these, it’s a good idea to talk to more than one doctor. This is called getting a second opinion.

When Should You Seek a Second Opinion?

For everyday care, you probably don’t need a second opinion. And, you don’t want to wait for a second opinion if you need emergency treatment. A second opinion is a good choice if you:

  • Have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, and want to explore your treatment options
  • Are deciding about a costly or risky test or treatment, like surgery
  • Are not clear about how well a test or treatment may work
  • Want a fresh perspective or need more information about your options

How Do You Get a Second Opinion?

Ask your primary care doctor or specialist for the name of another expert. Explain that this is how you like to make big medical decisions. Don’t worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings. Second opinions are expected.

You can also search for a specialist now using our physician directory. It’s possible to search by specialty, ZIP code, gender and even languages spoken. Read the physician profiles to learn more about the doctors you’re considering.

Follow these steps in planning your visit with the second doctor:

  • Ask your health insurance company if it covers a second opinion. For some surgeries, second opinions are required.
  • Schedule a visit with the second doctor. Give yourself enough time to arrange for your medical records to arrive before your appointment.
  • Have your first-opinion medical records, including test and imaging results, sent to the second doctor.
  • Bring a list of any medications you’re taking when you see the second doctor.
  • Prepare a list of questions for your visit and take notes during your visit.
  • After the appointment, ask the second doctor’s office to send a report to your primary doctor, the one who manages all your care. This keeps all of your medical information in one place.

Making Decisions About Your Care

Review the results of your visit to the second doctor with your primary care doctor or specialist. Ask how treatment choices might change your daily life, now and in the future. Discuss how recommended testing would be useful to you.

If your doctors agree, your decision should be clear. However, even when doctors follow the same guidelines, there may be more than one acceptable treatment choice.

You may want to talk to a third doctor or get an opinion from another healthcare professional. For example, if you are thinking about back surgery, meet with two surgeons and talk to a physical therapist or a physiatrist (a doctor trained to help with recovery from surgery, injury or stroke).

Learn all you can, and remember—the final choice is yours.

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