The Why, When, and How of Getting a Second Opinion on Your Medical Diagnosis

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Did you know that you don’t have to accept the first medical diagnosis you receive? In fact, you shouldn’t. In one study, the Mayo Clinic reported that only 12% of their second opinion patients left with a confirmation that the original diagnosis was accurate. This means that nearly 90% of patients left with a different or refined diagnosis. 

It’s a common myth that doctors know everything there is to know about all diseases, and they can successfully treat anyone who walks into their office. The reality is that it would be impossible for even the best doctors to be experts in the treatment and care of every disease. Therefore, getting a second opinion is the practical way to find a doctor who can give you an alternate point of view on your diagnosis and treatment. 

Why is it Important to Get a Second Opinion?

We all make mistakes every day—and your doctor likely does too. The BMJ Quality & Safety healthcare journal published a study on diagnostic errors and estimated that approximately 12 million adults in the U.S. are misdiagnosed every year, and half of these misdiagnoses could potentially be harmful. Getting a second opinion reduces your risk of getting a wrong diagnosis and increases your chances of getting proper care.

Why is it Important to Get a Second Opinion?

When we face major life decisions like buying a new house or choosing a college, we weigh several options, review the risks vs. benefits, and conduct thorough research before making a final decision. It’s no different when selecting a doctor. 

Getting second opinions and talking to more than one doctor will also help you learn more about your condition and treatment options. Becoming an educated health consumer will improve the quality of your healthcare as you advocate for yourself and become more in control of your health outcomes. 

Doctors also have varying treatment approaches, even when managing patients with the same diagnosis. Some physicians may take a more conservative approach, while others may prefer more aggressive treatment options. You have to decide which approach works best for you and your family. Seeing more than one doctor will give you more information from which to measure your options and make the best decision.

When Should You Get a Second Opinion?

Tackling unknown health problems or facing a new diagnosis can feel frightening and stressful, and the more knowledge you have, the more empowered you are to make the right decisions. Getting a second opinion provides you with more knowledge and puts you more in control of your health outcomes so you can become your own health advocate. 

To help you better navigate your health journey, we listed below some scenarios you may face that warrant getting a second medical opinion. 

When Should You Get a Second Opinion?

Let’s talk about each of these scenarios in more detail.

You Feel Uncomfortable About Any of Your Medical Experiences

It’s OK to want a second opinion if you feel uncomfortable or your gut is telling you to do so. You know your body better than anyone else, so listen to your inner voice when it speaks, and seek out additional medical advice if you feel the situation is warranted.

You Are Diagnosed with a Serious Condition 

What qualifies as a serious condition? This could include any health condition that is life-threatening or life-altering, or where the treatment options are high-risk. Diagnoses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or a rare disease would fall into this category. 

Even with a condition as frequently diagnosed as cancer, many different types exist, so one doctor won’t be fully immersed in every new study and clinical trial on all cancer types. A 2018 Annals of Surgical Oncology study found that out of 70 patients who received breast cancer diagnoses, 43% received a different diagnosis after being reviewed by a multidisciplinary tumor board at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. 

When you are diagnosed with a serious condition, your treatment and care may be long-term, so finding a provider and healthcare team you can trust is essential. As you seek the best treatment options, consider the trust factor when getting a second opinion.

You Want a Definitive Diagnosis

It’s not hard to understand why doctors might get a diagnosis wrong. It’s estimated that there are over 10,000 known diseases, and many share common symptoms. 

Yale Medicine reports that Wilson disease (a rare condition) is commonly misdiagnosed as early Parkinson’s disease because patients experience tremors, a symptom both conditions share. According to Michael Schilsky, MD, liver specialist and expert on Wilson disease, “Many of our patients with Wilson disease had delays of months or even years before their diagnosis was established…But getting an accurate diagnosis, in this case, is very important because an incorrect diagnosis can set you on the wrong path. If you systematically go down a diagnostic pathway and come up with negative results, you can at least exclude a disease, and that’s useful, too, because you then know to move on and look for other things.”

If your symptoms can be caused by more than one disease, consider the benefit of getting a second or third opinion. If you don’t know what other conditions share your symptoms, enter them into our Symptom Checker to narrow down the list. Note that this is not a diagnostic tool, but merely a way of helping you and your doctor identify conditions to explore.

symptom checker

You Are Confused About the Diagnosis or Treatment Options

Are you 100% clear on your course of treatment and the health journey ahead? If not, it’s OK to seek out other opinions. You may also feel uneasy settling on one treatment option. Another doctor may offer more up-to-date alternative treatments, or suggest different procedures that may be less invasive. Gather as much information as possible so you can make the best healthcare decision for you and your family.

You Aren’t Satisfied With Your Current Treatment

Have you been seeing a doctor for weeks or months, but your health is not improving? Many patients think they are stuck with one treatment option or doctor. But, if you underwent treatment and you are not improving, consider getting a second opinion from another doctor or a specialist. A more knowledgeable doctor in your condition can re-evaluate your diagnosis and offer additional treatment options, if necessary.

You Felt Rushed Through Your Doctor’s Appointment

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, physicians spend 20 minutes with each patient, on average. Twenty minutes may not be enough time to get all of your questions answered. It also may not give your doctor enough time to get your full health history, a factor to weigh when determining your diagnosis and treatment options.

Your Treatment Options are Invasive or High-Risk

You don’t have to settle on the first treatment option your doctor presents to you. If your doctor prescribes non-emergency high-risk treatment options such as surgery or procedures that can have life-long implications, it’s good practice to seek out a second opinion. 

You may not be aware of other less invasive options, or you may want to ensure your diagnosis is accurate. It’s unlikely that any doctor will be aware of all of the alternative treatments currently working for patients since new developments rapidly change. Some doctors practice more up-to-date procedures than others depending on their treatment style. 

You Are Diagnosed With a Rare Condition

25 to 30 million people are living with a rare disease

It is estimated that 25 to 30 million people in the United States suffer from more than 7,000 rare diseases. Yet, a Global Genes survey found that while 60% of primary care physicians and 80% of specialists said they welcome the challenges of rare diseases, 40% of PCPs and 24% of specialists lack time to do a proper workup. The survey also found that it can take an average of 4.8 years after symptom onset for patients to get an accurate diagnosis for a rare condition. 

If you have a rare disease, getting a second opinion is critical because these conditions are not as well-researched as common diseases. Not every doctor will be well-versed in their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Misdiagnosis is also a significant concern. 

Your Child Needs Care

There are few instances more frightening than facing serious health concerns—one is when the health concerns involve your children. Any of the above cases weigh even more heavily if you are seeking care for your child. 

While most childhood health maladies resolve themselves, chronic symptoms may warrant more than one doctor’s opinion. Talk to your child’s primary care doctor about seeing a specialist if you feel your child’s symptoms are not being addressed. If you have a trusted relationship with your child’s pediatrician, in most cases, your inquiry will not disrupt the relationship. 

Your Doctor is Not an Expert in Your Condition

Your doctors may be kind, compassionate, and attentive, but if they aren’t experts in your condition, you may not receive the highest quality of care. 

This specialization is similar to any other career. For example, the Information Technology industry encompasses many different disciplines that would take people working in the Industry several lifetimes to master if they wanted to tackle them all. While most people working in IT will know a good deal about computers, their skills will be generalized unless they devote their careers to a specific technology. Even then, they can only master a few specific technologies. 

It is no different with healthcare providers. While all doctors will be well trained in general human health, anatomy, and common diseases, not all providers will be specialized in every condition. This is especially true given the thousands of conditions currently being diagnosed and studied. Some doctors spend their entire careers researching, speaking, and conducting clinical trials to understand just one disease’s pathology, symptoms, and treatment.

If you are unsure whether your doctor is an expert, ensure the specialist meets the following criteria:

unsure whether your doctor is an expert

How to Seek Out a Second Medical Opinion

The first step in this process is to talk with your doctor about getting a second opinion. Most doctors are concerned about your health and want the best outcomes for you. For this reason, they generally will not be offended should you decide to get a second opinion. Ask your doctor for advice on how to move forward. If the doctor expresses anger or hesitation, you might wish to consider if this is the right provider for you. 

How to Find a Second Doctor

Your doctor may have referred you to another physician, but you should do your own research before accepting the recommendation. Before heading off to another specialist, make sure the doctor is an expert in your specific health condition. This will reduce your chances of having to get a third or fourth opinion. 

The value of a second opinion comes from making sure that opinion comes from an expert and that you are presented with all relevant options. The MediFind Second Opinion Finder identifies doctors who are experts in your specific medical condition, but who are likely to have different insights about care options than your original doctor. To search, you will need your doctor’s name, your location, and your diagnosis. Our cutting-edge algorithm will return experts in your condition who are at the forefront of research in their fields. 

The Second Opinion Finder identifies specialists in a way that is different from other tools you may have used. MediFind gathers data that isn’t readily accessible to health consumers, such as doctors’ publications, involvement with other doctors who treat the same condition, their current research, and more. We also evaluate each doctor according to our criteria, so you have the best chance of getting a second opinion from a provider who thoroughly studies your condition, its symptoms, and treatment options. 

Visit our Second Opinion Finder here.

Second Opinion Finder
how to get a second opinion

What to Bring to Your Appointment

To ensure your new doctor has enough information, bring the following to your appointment:

  • Surgery reports
  • Biopsy reports
  • Other diagnostic/imaging test results (MRIs, X-rays, etc.)
  • List of the drugs/supplements you currently take and dosage
  • Allergies
  • Reports from hospital stays
  • Discharge reports
  • Treatment plans proposed by the first doctor

You can request all of your medical records from your previous doctor and the hospital that treated you, if relevant.

If the two doctors agree, you have a confirmation and can proceed more confidently on your treatment path. If you still feel you need more advice, it’s perfectly acceptable to see a third doctor. If the two doctors don’t agree, talk to your doctors again to understand how they arrived at a diagnosis and treatment plan, and what research they consulted. It’s also not uncommon to have more than one doctor treating you, so this may be another option. 

Always Trust Your Gut And Get a Second Opinion

While getting a second opinion may feel time-consuming, not doing so could negatively affect you and your health in serious ways. Here at MediFind, we’ve made the process easy and taken the guesswork out of finding a second doctor. We aim to empower you with all of the information you need to make the best health decisions for you and your family. 

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