1. Health

When Do You Need a Second Opinion?

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Updated July 17, 2012

When we are first given a difficult diagnosis, and treatment options sound overwhelming, it's easy just to follow along with what our doctors tell us. After all, they are in charge, and they know what's best for us, right?

Maybe not. And because you can't be sure, you need to get a second opinion.

Surprisingly, fewer than one-third of patients who are dealt a difficult diagnosis ever seek one. But that can be a big mistake. There are too many points in the diagnosis and treatment recommendation process where either an error can be made, or the recommendation is not made in the best interest of the patient.

Why Do You Need a Second Opinion?

Not all diagnoses require a second opinion.

If you are given a test that is always conclusive, and the diagnosis is clear, then there's no sense wasting your time, or a second doctor's time for an opinion that can only be the same thing. For example, the diagnosis of diabetes requires blood tests that will be conclusive. A second opinion would not be necessary.

But a diagnosis that is at all suspect, or is based on tests that do not have clear or conclusive results, always requires a second opinion. Whether those questions are in the mind of the doctor, or in your mind as a patient, there is certainly no harm in getting a second opinion, and you may find out it's a lifesaver.

The same is true for treatment. If the treatment recommendations made to you are at all invasive, like surgery or chemotherapy, or if they require long term or a lifetime of treatment, like a pill every day for a chronic illness, it's vital you get a second opinion to be sure you are making the right choice.

Even in the case of something like the diabetes diagnosis mentioned above, there could be several potential treatments offered. A second opinion will help sort them out in your own mind so you can be sure the right choices are being made.

There is one other reason to get a second opinion. If the recommending doctor will profit from the treatment he or she has suggested, it's important to find out if that recommendation has been made for your benefit, or for the doctor's.

Getting a second opinion offers not just medical information to help you learn more about your malady. It offers peace of mind that you are approaching your new diagnosis with the best chances for a good outcome.

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