Our interactions with the medical field can be stressful, especially when a diagnosis or treatment plan is considered serious. Critical conditions or life-threatening illnesses evoke a level of fear not found in most other life situations, and oftentimes, there is a sense of urgency that surrounds a medical professional’s recommendation for how to get back to a healthy status. Despite the sense of urgency, making quick decisions when it comes to medical care is not always the best course of action. Taking the time to fully understand your diagnosis and course of treatment options is one of the best steps we can take to ensure a positive end result.
Part of that process is obtaining a second opinion.
Doctors are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions and diseases, and so it is natural to simply go with the initial advice from your primary care physician. However, they don’t always get it right the first time, resulting in misdiagnoses, unnecessary treatment plans or prolonged symptoms. According to a recent study, over one third of patients within the United States never get a second opinion, despite the fact that just under 10% of all patients do not fully comprehend their diagnosis or plan for care. Seeking out the advice or counsel of a medical professional above and beyond your current provider is a smart way to combat these issues, but the process of getting a second opinion is often wrought with discomfort – most of us wish to not rock the proverbial boat.
To ensure you are receiving the most suitable treatment for your medical condition, getting a second opinion is incredibly important. Here’s how to tackle the process.
What Prompts a Second Opinion?
Seeking out a second opinion is highly recommended when your diagnosis or condition is severe; however, that does not mean a second opinion cannot be obtained for less serious cases. Getting advice from another medical professional should be the norm when you experience the following:
• Little understanding of your diagnosis or prognosis
• A diagnosis of a severe or life-threatening disease or condition
• When the FDA has not yet provided clear guidance on approved treatments for your condition
• When a trial drug or treatment is recommended
• If your provider is not able to provide clear answers on why or how a treatment will be completed
• When complications take place during treatment
Receiving a second opinion soon after any of these circumstances take place is important in maintaining control over your medical care. Additionally, second opinions are helpful in protecting you against malpractice or questionable treatment plans implemented by your doctor. Patient Claim Line, a medical negligence solicitors firm, reports that 14% of medical claims within the UK are directly related to information provided during a second opinion. Safeguarding yourself from adverse outcomes related to your health is necessary, no matter how big or small your condition or illness.
Our Rights as Patients
Obtaining a second opinion feels a bit awkward in practice, especially when the relationship between you and your primary doctor is strong. However, it is important to remember that we all have the right to seek out a second opinion when we deem it necessary, as it is our responsibility to take as much control as possible over our own medical care. The majority of health care coverage plans afford patients the ability to get a second opinion for serious conditions without too much of a hassle. Others, however, make it more challenging to receive the advice from a specialist or another physician for a condition already diagnosed or after treatment has begun. Regardless of the circumstances under which you fall, it is necessary for you to be heard if you feel a second opinion is needed or otherwise desired.
Doctors are often willing to lend a hand for patients who want a second opinion, and most understand this to be a basic right of all patients. Take the stress out of asking for a second opinion by being open and honest with your primary medical professional about your concerns or questions surrounding a diagnosis or treatment plan. If they seem put off by your request, or disinterested in assisting you, work directly with your health care coverage provider to find another medical professional to assist you in achieving the best possible care.
Keeping your Doctor Informed
Second opinions need not be an awkward or uncomfortable request, but it is natural to feel some level of uneasiness when your desire to get a second opinion comes up. To help fight off that unrest, use the following phrases to start the conversation with your doctor or medical professional:
I want to get a second opinion before starting any treatment plan. Can you help me with this?
Would you get a second opinion if you were in my shoes?
My family has urged me to get a second opinion about my diagnosis/treatment plan.
This diagnosis and treatment plan concern me. To feel comfortable making this decision, I want to consult with another doctor for a second opinion.
Starting the second opinion discussion off with one of these phrases will help eliminate some of the stress that comes with seeking out additional/different advice. If you choose to seek out a second opinion without asking your doctor for help, know that it is necessary to still keep them informed. Medical records including lab results, notes and current or past prescriptions need to be shared with secondary doctors in a timely manner to ensure there are no delays in receiving additional advice or care.
As much as second opinions are an important aspect of maintaining control over your health care and treatment, the process seems arduous to most patients. Obtaining a second opinion does not have to be a challenging or uncomfortable process, however. Start by knowing when a second opinion is warranted, and how obtaining this supplemental information is beneficial to your well-being on a multitude of levels. Work with your primary doctor first, and take advantage of your health insurance provider should you run into any issues. Know that obtaining a second opinion is one of your basic patient rights, and don’t be afraid to follow your gut when the need arises.
This is a guest blog entry.