Getting a Second Opinion
When you're facing a tough health care decision, you may have a hard time knowing what to do. Is surgery the answer? Is that expensive test the right choice? Is it best to get treatment, or watch and wait?
To answer the big questions, it's a good idea to talk to more than one doctor. This is called getting a second opinion.
When is a second opinion helpful?
For everyday health care, you probably don't need a second opinion. But a second opinion may be a good idea if:
How do you get a second opinion?
Ask your doctor for the name of another expert, someone with whom he or she is not closely connected. Explain that this is how you like to make big medical decisions. Don't worry about offending your doctor. Second opinions are expected.
If you aren't comfortable asking your doctor for a name, check with your insurance company, a local medical society, or the nearest university hospital.
If you are deciding about a surgery or other special treatment, ask your primary care doctor (such as your internist or family doctor) for the name of a surgeon or specialist who doesn't work with your current surgeon or specialist. Also think about getting an opinion from a health professional with a different background.
When getting a second opinion, follow these steps:
Forms you can take to your doctor visit include:
How do you use a second opinion?
When you have gathered the information you need, go over it with your primary care doctor or the specialist of your choice. Talk about how treatment choices might change your daily life, now and in the future. For testing choices, talk about how the results would be useful to you.
If your doctors agree, your decision should be clearer. But sometimes doctors disagree. Even when doctors follow the same guidelines, there may be more than one treatment choice. Two doctors may have good, yet different, opinions about how to treat you.
If the doctors don't agree, talk to your primary care doctor again. Can he or she help you with your decision? If not, and if you still wonder about other options, talk to a different kind of provider. For example, if you are thinking about back surgery, meet with two surgeons and talk to a physical therapist, a physiatrist (a doctor trained to help with recovery from surgery, injury, or stroke), or a doctor with experience in nonsurgical back care. You might learn about some nonsurgical, lower-risk choices you can try.
Remember, the final choice is yours.
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