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How to Work With a Second Opinion Doctor

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Updated November 23, 2011

Getting a second opinion about your medical problem -- or its possible treatment options -- can be vital.

Whether you know it's important to get a second opinion, or even if you just think you'd like one, here are some steps to follow to be sure you are getting the most from your two doctors' opinions.

Prepare for Your Second Opinion Appointment

Once you've determined who the best doctor is for your second opinion, you'll want to gather the necessary materials to help her do her job. Begin by pulling together copies of your records, including test results and notes from your first doctor. You need to be sure Doctor-2 has all the same evidence to review as Doctor-1.

It is your responsibility to make sure Doctor-2 gets those records, so plan to deliver them yourself, even if Doctor-1's staff tells you they will transfer your records to Doctor-2. It's best to deliver them (or fax them if there aren't too many pages) ahead of your appointment. That gives Doctor-2 a chance to review them before your appointment.

Make the appointment yourself with your choice for Doctor-2. This sometimes causes a problem because some specialists will schedule only referrals from their colleagues. If this is the case, then return to Doctor-1 with the name and phone number for Doctor-2 -- in writing -- and ask his designated appointment-maker to make one on your behalf. If they tell you it's not a doctor they usually deal with, then ask them to handle it anyway. Just because you meet with resistance doesn't mean they can or will turn down your request.

One additional note as the appointment is being made: If you are able to schedule the appointment yourself, double check to be sure Doctor-2 will work with your insurance. If Doctor-1's staff is making the appointment for you, then ask them to ask about insurance coverage for you. Again, you may meet with some resistance, but they should do it for you, even if it isn't something they are used to doing.

And if Doctor-2 won't work with your insurance? You'll have to decide whether you can afford to pay for the appointment yourself, or whether you'll need to identify another doctor who can handle your second opinion.

What to Expect During Your Second Opinion Appointment

Doctor-2 will begin by reading your test results and notes. She will examine you just like Doctor-1 did, and she will either concur with Doctor-1, or will discuss other options with you.

If Doctor-2 has questions about your diagnosis, she may arrange for additional tests. You may have to make another appointment to get her opinion after she receives those results.

Once Doctor-2 has made up her mind, you'll have your second opinion. Comparison with your first opinion will result in one of three outcomes:

  • Both doctors may agree on your diagnosis and treatment recommendations. If this is the case, then you can choose which doctor will be the one to treat you.

  • Or Doctor-2 may agree with Doctor-1's diagnosis, but provide you with a different treatment option.

  • Or the doctors may disagree on the diagnosis, in which case there will probably be disagreement on the treatment options, too.

Suppose the Doctors Differ on Either the Diagnosis or Treatment?

You will have some choices to make, knowing your first goal is to get the correct diagnosis.

We'll start with some "don'ts:"

  • Don't assume that the doctor who gives you better news is the correct one. Just because you like the answers better doesn't mean she is right.

  • Don't assume that Doctor-2 is correct. If the second doctor's opinion is always the correct one, why did you go to a first?

  • Don't assume that the "nicer" doctor is right either. A doctor with better bedside manner isn't necessarily a better practitioner.

And some "do's" for differing medical opinions:

  • If the doctors' opinions are very different, you'll want to consider getting a third opinion. The third opinion will likely be similar to either Doctor-1 or Doctor-2, and that will help you make your treatment decisions, too.

    Choose Doctor-3 the way you chose Doctor-2. Handle an appointment with Doctor-3 just the way you did for Doctor-2. Don't forget to check with your insurance to see if the visit will be covered.

  • If the doctors are only shades apart in their opinions and recommendations, ask them to discuss your situation with each other. They may balk, but don't back down. Ask the doctor you prefer to work with to report back to you.

Finally, let your intuition help in all this decision-making. Don't discount its ability to help you judge which doctor can be more helpful to you, or which one has made a better assessment of your health. It's your body. Let your intuitive mind work in your favor, too.

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