If you just received a medical diagnosis, it’s common to be fearful or confused about the next steps. The health journey can be difficult and feel overwhelming, and it often brings with it many questions that need immediate answers.
Getting a second opinion can answer some of your questions, ease concerns, and put you in a better position to make more educated health decisions. In serious cases, it can even save your life. But, pursuing a second opinion can add more stress to the situation if you are afraid your current doctor could get offended, resulting in a conflict.
While it is not impossible for a doctor to get offended, thankfully it happens less than you may fear. In this article, we offer some advice on getting second opinions, and also talk to several doctors about how they view patients who request second opinions. You may be surprised at their answers.
It’s not uncommon for patients to simply accept a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan because many people believe that all doctors should be well-versed in all aspects of medical care. While doctors are highly respected and cherished in the industry, it’s impossible for any one doctor to be skilled in every medical field given that there are over 10,000 known diseases. Some physicians spend a lifetime studying and researching symptoms and treatments of just one disorder, even within varying specialties.
We talked with Dr. Robert W. Berghorn, Jr., a physical therapist who refers patients to specialists for further evaluation. Dr. Berghorn believes that getting a second and even third opinion is necessary because not all physicians know what’s best for a patient.
“There are plenty of health care consumers out there who just assume that the MD knows best and will accept anything he/she says for them to do. However, (not saying this isn’t the case) I have seen plenty of surgeries and procedures that, in hindsight, could have been avoided, and the patient could have avoided less downtime, lost wages, and saved money on medical costs.”
Medicine is also not an exact science. According to an internal study by the Mayo Clinic, nearly 90% of patients seeking a second opinion left with a different or refined diagnosis.
Treatment plans may differ among physicians, and tests may not reveal the entire story or be conclusive enough to produce a confident diagnosis. Additional tests may also be necessary, and another physician may have insight into your condition that the original physician doesn’t.
Getting a second opinion helps you with the following:
Suggested reading: If you’d like more information, read this article on how and when to get a second opinion.
When it comes to your health and wellness, offending your doctor should be last on your list of worries. Getting a second opinion is standard, and experienced doctors know and expect it. This doesn’t mean that every doctor will be kind when you request a second medical opinion. A few may get offended, but it may be best to take your business elsewhere if this happens.
We understand that you want to keep the peace, and that doing so is important to your health journey. The good news is that most doctors welcome patients getting second opinions because they know that health consumers should thoroughly research their options before settling on a doctor and a treatment plan.
Dr. Jared Heathman, MD, is a psychiatrist practicing in the Houston, TX area. He recommends his patients receive a second medical opinion because patients should trust and believe the diagnosis before they proceed with treatment.
“I recommend all patients that remain unconvinced about their diagnosis to seek a second opinion. I am honest with patients about the degree of certainty with their diagnosis, and I understand that sometimes it makes sense to have a second specialist review the information. Patients who trust and believe the diagnosis are more likely to be compliant with treatment, and I want my patients to improve. If a second opinion would improve these odds, I am more than happy to recommend other physicians to obtain the second opinion.”
Dr. Nitesh Paryani, MD, a practicing oncologist in Tampa, FL, jokingly says, “Most people spend more time researching their flat-screen TVs than they do their doctors, and that’s clearly problematic.”
For this reason, Dr. Paryani recommends patients get a second opinion, and he never gets offended at the sentiment. He says, “I tell patients that I do not get offended by a patient getting a second opinion, and they should actively avoid any doctor who does. No doctor, in my opinion, should be concerned about an additional physician providing input or reviewing the plan of care for their patient.”
Dr. Paryani also agrees that another reason to get a second opinion is that doctors may have different treatment approaches for the same diagnosis. Patients often receive divergent recommendations from other physicians, which, according to Dr. Paryani, is “a sign that often in medicine there are not clear answers, but many acceptable approaches to the same problem.”
“I find that by pursuing a second opinion, patients often gain more trust in the original physician, as they know this doctor has nothing to hide and has their best interests in mind.”
As we mentioned before, it is difficult to know every treatment option available, so doctors understand that collective expertise is better than one opinion. Doctors know each physician has varying levels of knowledge that can aid patients in their journey to recovery. They often contact colleagues to help with complex conditions and offer advice on new and updated treatment options since the medical field moves rapidly.
We talked with Dr. Rachna Patel, who had to become her own health advocate when she was diagnosed with a heart condition. Even as a physician, she thought it was wise to get a second opinion. Dr. Patel states, “I would absolutely recommend a 2nd, and even 3rd opinion…when I was diagnosed with a heart condition, I got a 2nd opinion to figure out how to proceed with treatment options.”
Dr. Patel encourages patients to get second opinions whenever possible. “Physicians vary in their knowledge and experience,” she says. “Some have more knowledge than others. Some have more experience than others. I’m a rare breed of physicians—a Medical Cannabis Doctor—so it’s difficult to find a similar specialist, but I still encourage it.”
Nancy Brook, a nurse practitioner at the specialty cancer practice at Stanford Health Care, told us that patients are afraid to get second opinions because they don’t want to offend their doctor or they want to move ahead with treatment as quickly as possible. But, Ms. Brook believes this isn’t the best way to approach such an important decision. Instead, she encourages patients to get second opinions since they are essential to excellent care:
“[Second opinions] help the patient to feel confident in a case where they may have many questions or concerns. Sometimes, there are surgical techniques that one surgeon may use versus another (based on training, skill, etc.). At Stanford, we are not only ok with patients getting second opinions but encourage them to do so.”
Second opinions are especially essential when you are dealing with a rare or complex condition. Dr. Inna Husain, MD, is a laryngologist who specializes in managing disorders of the throat. She sees a lot of patients who seek second opinions since her specialty is not well-known.
Dr. Husain is supportive of second opinions and offered her recommendations:
“There are rare diseases that exist in this world, and unless you see something often, you may not think of it. You also may not be up to date on the latest research and treatment options. Not all physicians know everything; we are human.
There are conditions that evolve over time. The first visit, the condition may not be so obvious the first time, but additional symptoms may show up on follow up or during a second opinion visit.
I am ok with my patients getting a second opinion if it helps them find relief from their symptoms or helps them come to terms with their disease process. I recommend patients get second opinions, especially when a diagnosis is not made from a symptom, or if they have a rare diagnosis. This is to help with them knowing all their options regarding treatment so they can make an educated decision.”
Telling your doctor you want to get a second opinion should not be an awkward or strange situation. It’s quite common.
While we have established that good doctors will respect a patient’s decision to get a second opinion, everyone deals with some level of insecurity (even doctors). Approach the situation with care, so the doctor feels validated and respected.
The information in the graphic below can help you avoid conflict when approaching your doctor:
If your doctor responds harshly or in a negative way to your decision after you kindly bring it up, it may be time to consider finding your care elsewhere.
Getting a second medical opinion is an important step, and one that you should not take lightly. To find a highly qualified doctor, search for experts in your condition who have the necessary qualifications to treat you. Doctors who are experts often have:
Finding doctors with these qualifications can require a lot of time, which is likely in short supply, especially if you are dealing with a complex or rare condition. MediFind shortcuts this process by compiling the latest medical data for the above criteria, helping you find highly qualified doctors who treat specific conditions in seconds.
Using the same criteria, MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder helps you search for the best physicians when getting second and third opinions. The platform uses three criteria to narrow down doctors:
Based on the information you enter, MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder will provide a list of doctors, categorized by level of expertise, from which to continue your research. Click on each result to get more information on the doctor, their background, research, clinical trials, and other conditions in which they specialize.
It’s not uncommon to want to get a second opinion, and it’s generally expected when you are dealing with a condition that may require long-term care or more invasive testing and treatment. You have every prerogative as a health consumer to be as informed as possible.
At MediFind, our goal is to empower you to become an advocate for your health so you can get the best possible health outcomes as quickly as possible.
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