Once you know you'll need a second opinion, take these steps to identify who will be your best choice of second opinion doctors.
Begin by telling your first opinion doctor that you'd like a second opinion. Any doctor worthy of the practice of medicine will be supportive. If he's not supportive? That's a red flag which means you most definitely need a second opinion.
Often Doctor-1 will be so supportive that he'll offer to refer you to a friend or colleague for that second opinion. Your reply to that offer should be, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Why? Your goal is to get the most objective opinion about your medical condition and treatment options as possible. Doctors tend to refer patients to their friends and acquaintances, even to a colleague in their same practice. They may play golf together, belong to the same clubs or associations, have offices down the hall from each other, eat lunch together; there are many opportunities for them to build relationships.
And doctors are just like the rest of us human beings; they are loathe to contradict a friend or colleague. If Doctor-1 and Doctor-2 are friends, especially in the same practice, there is too good a chance you won't get the objective information you need.
That means you'll need to begin from scratch. You'll need to find the names of doctors who fit your needs (probably specialists), research their quality and capabilities, and determine whether or not they will take you on as a patient.
How Do You Find the Best Doctors?
Names of doctors can come from a variety of resources. You can get a list of candidates from your insurer, go online to one of the doctor ratings websites, or ask other patients about doctors who have helped them.
Once you have names of doctors to work with, you want to do some due diligence to make sure you find the best doctor for your needs.
There are two step-1s. That seems strange, but in this case, the one you choose as your first will be dependent on how difficult your second opinion needs to be. If the diagnosis you need to confirm is at all unusual, you may want to find out which doctors are accepting new patients before you spend the time researching them.
On the other hand, your diagnosis is not so unusual, even if it's very difficult for you, then you may want to review the doctor's basics first.
Step 1-1: Begin with the basics of finding the right doctor. No matter whether this is your first, second or umpteenth opinion, the basics need to be in place.
Step 1-2: Begin by phoning the possibilities on your list to see if they are taking new patients. This is a tough balance. In truth, the best doctors are the ones that are the most difficult to make an appointment with. You might have to plead your case.
The other side of that coin is a doctor who is too easily available. That's not a good sign either, unless the doctor is fairly new in practice. A doctor newly in practice creates another set of decisions, weighing his lack of experience against the possibility that because he is closer to his education, he has experience with newer and more modern treatment methods.
Step 2: Your second step will be whichever step 1 you still need to complete.
Step 3: Depending on your location, and the number of doctors available for the specialty you need, your list has probably been narrowed by both step 1s. Step 3 requires you review their quality. You can do this in a number of ways.
- You'll want to find objective, credential-type information such as how long they have been in practice, whether they are board certified, and whether they have any marks against their license or number of malpractice losses. If your first doctor has recommended surgery, you'll want to find a doctor who is not a surgeon, if possible, or one who approaches surgery differently from the first. Most of that information can be found online through the medical board in your state, or through one of the online doctors ratings sites.
- If possible, you may also want to find more subjective information. Talk to other patients, including family, friends or colleagues who have been diagnosed with similar types of medical problems and ask about their experiences. Ask other healthcare workers -- non-physicians -- for their opinions. Keep in mind this one caveat: Just because a doctor is nice, or has a good bedside manner, doesn't make that doctor a good clinician. It's great if you can have both! But be happy to settle for the doctor who is the better medical practitioner.
You should now have enough information to make your decision for your second opinion doctor. Go ahead and make an appointment with that doctor, and prepare for the visit.