You may feel like you do not have control over the illness or disease that is affecting your health, but you do have control over which option you choose to treat it. Your healthcare providers have the training and experience to diagnose and recommend treatment options, but you know what’s best for you when it comes to your personal goals, circumstances, beliefs and any other considerations that are important to you and your family.
That’s why you should carefully consider all the treatment options presented to you. And part of that decision-making process may involve getting a second opinion. If, for example, your doctor recommends surgery, a second opinion may help you confirm that you do need surgery or you may find that you can try a less invasive approach first. In fact, in the case of more aggressive treatments, such as surgery, your insurance plan may require that you get a second opinion.
Make sure that you also have up-to-date and thorough medical records that you can share with each healthcare provider you see. The more accurate information you can provide, the better your chances of receiving opinions—first, second or even third—that will help you make the best treatment decisions for you. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on physicians and their staff to have this information, especially if you are seeing physicians from a variety of specialties or health plans, or if test results are from a hospital where the physician does not practice. Click here to learn more about maintaining a personal health record for you or your family member to organize your notes and medical records.
Keep in mind that recommendations from a physician can be different without being right or wrong. A doctor’s treatment recommendation is the culmination of his or her unique set of training, experience and general approach. For example, one healthcare provider may recommend monitoring a problem before treatment, while another recommends a more aggressive approach of surgery or a procedure.
If you have any doubt about the treatment recommended by your doctor, ask him or her about getting a second opinion. Your doctor should not be offended by this request. It is common practice. In fact, he or she may be able to recommend another doctor or a specialist to help you.
Finding a Healthcare Provider
If you do not have a recommendation from the first the first healthcare provider consulted, click here for suggestions on how to find a healthcare provider for your second opinion. And, because it is a second opinion, you may want to find a specialist rated among the top in his or her field to make sure the provider is practicing the most up-to-date treatment options available.
It may also be in your best interest to find a healthcare provide affiliated with a different medical group or hospital. Medical centers or well-known research and teaching hospitals are great sources for second opinions. They are among the first to try new treatments and technologies and they may have access to clinical trials.
If you do not live near a specialist who has the expertise you need for a second opinion, you might also consider an e-consult. An e-consult, or electronic consultation, allows a physician in a different location to review your electronic medical record, including images and lab results and discuss them with you, either with video conferencing or by phone. Of course, a specialist can learn more from talking with you in person, but sometimes the e-consult is the next best option for a second opinion. It all depends on your needs.
Whenever you have the time and attention of a healthcare provider, get the most out of the opportunity. Prepare your questions in advance, take notes, consider bringing someone with you to the appointment to take notes while you are talking with the doctor, and ask the doctor to send his or her notes to you and your primary care physician. Your healthcare provide may also let you record your conversation; however, you should always ask him or her first as a courtesy.
If you get in the habit of documenting every visit you have with a healthcare provider as you work through the diagnosis and treatment process, it won’t be long before you accumulate a lot of paper. Even if you keep electronic files instead of paper, organization is critical for finding specific information when you need it again. Click here for more information on keeping track of this information in a Personal Health Record (PHR).
Health Insurance Coverage for a Second Opinion
Depending on the circumstances and your insurance coverage, your insurance may or may not pay for some or all of the second opinion. It is fairly common that they pay 80 percent. Some, including Medicare, may even pay a percentage of a third opinion if the second opinion is different from the first. If you are concerned about covering the cost of a second opinion, check with your insurance company before you go.
Providing Medical Records and Test Results for a Second Opinion
It is extremely important that you provide all of your medical records and test results to the healthcare provider giving the second opinion. Your insurance may not pay for repeat testing. Make arrangements to pick up the copies for the doctor giving the second opinion. If the first doctor’s office is sending the records and test results to the physician giving the second opinion, call a few days before your appointment to make sure the second opinion provider has received everything.
Although your emotions may be telling you to act as quickly as possible to address your medical issue, take the time now to carefully consider your options. You’ll make a better decision if you have all the information you need, and part of that information may include a second opinion. Your treatment may require a long-term commitment from you. Making that journey will be easier if you have confidence in your decision and the team of healthcare professionals on your team.