The Guide to Second Opinions


No one likes being called a patient, but at one time or another throughout our lifetimes, interaction with the medical field is a must. Even though doctors, nurses and other practitioners have the ability to put us back on the path toward wellness, visiting a medical office or facility is often a stressful, albeit necessary task. When the reason prompting the doctor’s visit is critical, the degree of stress experienced rises substantially, and a sense of urgency takes hold. It is under these circumstances where we as patients must make important decisions based on the guidance from the medical professionals we trust, all for the sake of getting back to health.


Diagnosing and treating a myriad of health issues is what doctors are specifically educated and trained to do, and so it is not surprising that most patients follow the direction of a primary care provider when critical health concerns arise even without fully comprehending the severity or complexity of their condition. In fact, according to a study of patients conducted within the United States, under 10% of all patients lack a full understanding of their diagnosis or ongoing plan for care. While being quick to accept a critical diagnosis and subsequently make a split-second decision about a course of treatment may lessen the burden of bad medical news, it does not faithfully lead to positive outcomes.

Obtaining a second opinion should be part of the equation when it comes to serious illness or disease, but the process of seeking out advice from another medical professional is uncomfortable to say the least. In order to gain a better understanding of your diagnosis and potential treatment options through a second opinion, it is important to know what prompts a secondary perspective, your rights as a patient, and methods to keep your primary doctor informed.

When to Seek Out Another Opinion

The common cold or garden variety pulled muscle doesn’t typically warrant a second opinion; serious conditions or diagnoses often do. Seeking an opinion from a doctor other than your primary care provider is a smart idea if you are faced with the following concerns:

  • Your understanding of the prognosis or diagnosis is limited, even with your doctor’s explanation
  • Your condition is life-threatening or long-term
  • Your recommended plan of care is not yet approved by a medical authority, like the Food and Drug
  • Administration (FDA)
  • Your treatment includes a trial drug
  • Your primary doctor is unable to offer answers that clearly address how a treatment will be completed or why it is necessary/recommended
  • You experience complications at any time during treatment

In an effort to maintain control over your health, both mentally and physically, securing a second opinion shortly after any of the circumstances above take place is essential. Second opinions also safeguard you against questionable treatment plans provided by your doctor, and limit the potential for harmful malpractice. A firm of medical negligence solicitors, Patient Claim Line, reports that 14% of claims made against medical providers within the UK can be directly correlated to new or different information obtained while getting a second opinion. Without taking the critical step of speaking with another medical professional, your health can be at risk.

Patient Rights

One of the most common hindrances to obtaining a second opinion is the perception of strain it puts on the relationship between patient and primary care provider. There is a common myth that doctors should simply be trusted with the guidance and care they provide, regardless of the severity of the condition or the complexity of the treatment. However, securing a second opinion is a staple within the list of rights we all have as patients, and is necessary in keeping a firm grip on our medical care. Most major health care coverage plans provide an opportunity to do just that, without excessive forms or the need to pay additional expenses. In some cases, though, getting the input of another doctor or specialist for a condition already diagnosed or after treatment has started comes with strings attached.

To offset the struggle that comes with getting a second opinion as it relates to health care insurance plans, patients should start with their primary care provider. Most doctors understand that a second opinion is part of your rights as a patient, and as such should be willing to provide assistance in gathering one. However, if there is clear disdain or disinterest surrounding your request for a second opinion, work directly with your health care insurance provider to determine what avenues are available within your coverage plan.

Communication with your Doctor

While it may feel necessary to maintain some secrecy about your desire to get a second opinion, the medical community encourages patients to speak with their primary care doctor openly and honestly. Asking for assistance with finding another respected doctor from your current provider, before suggested treatment begins, is a simple way to start the discussion. Your doctor should be willing to offer up referrals for specialists or providers who have experience in treating your diagnoses condition, both in and outside his practice. Mentioning you are concerned about the course of treatment or the severity or complexity of the disease is also a way to begin the discussion, without it being an uncomfortable topic.

Although getting a second opinion is a necessary factor in controlling your medical care, the process if often plagued with uneasiness. However, you can remove some of that undue stress by understanding when a second opinion is most appropriate and how a second opinion affects your overall health. Remember that you have rights as a patient, and your doctor should respect your desire to seek out the advice of another medical professional. Taking these steps and communicating openly with your primary doctor are the best methods for obtaining a second opinion while maintaining control over your well-being.