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The value of getting a second opinion

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Your doctor gives you a serious diagnosis or recommends a major procedure. You feel unsure about moving forward and wonder, "should I get a second opinion?"

"There is never a downside to getting a second opinion," says Jan Risden, MD, an OB-GYN on the medical staff at Methodist Richardson Medical Center. "Most physicians want their patients to feel comfortable with decisions made regarding their medical care. They care about their patients and know that an informed patient is likely to be more at ease and compliant, which can ultimately lead to a better outcome."

When should I seek a second opinion?

Dr. Risden says it's particularly helpful when you have a complicated or rare medical condition that requires a specialist. She adds you may have several options for treatment and want another opinion on the best option for you. Second opinions are also helpful when you're unclear about your options, or want to learn about the latest innovations in treatments. Some health plans require a second opinion for certain procedures.

How do I find a doctor for a second opinion?

Dr. Risden says you might start by asking your own physician to recommend someone. Ask family members and acquaintances to recommend a doctor they know and trust. You might also consider contacting hospitals and facilities, like a cancer center, that can connect you with specialists who have the necessary expertise. You'll want someone with the skills and expertise that are at least comparable to your own doctor.

If you do seek a second opinion, make sure you check with your health plan beforehand to see if the doctor is in your plan's network so you are aware of any costs.

How should I prepare for the second opinion meeting?

Bring as much as you can with you, according to Dr. Risden. She says the more complete the picture a doctors has, the better. So, that means bringing medical records, imaging, lab test results, and anything a specialist might find helpful. She recommends being clear about the answers you hope to gain from the meeting:

  • Does this doctor agree with the recommended treatment?
  • Are there other suggested treatments?
  • What are the pros and cons of each?

Bring your questions with you and take notes. If possible, have a family member or friend accompany you who can share what they hear or observe during the meeting to help you make a decision.

I have the second opinion. Now what?

You have met with the doctors, have clear answers to your questions, and have done your homework. It's time to make a decision. "Physicians can only provide information, but ultimately the decision is yours to make," says Dr. Risden. Consider the risks and benefits of the treatment, as well as your work, family, and personal needs. "You should speak with your family and people whose opinions you trust, but you have to feel that the doctor you choose has your best interest at heart and is offering what they feel is the best option," says Dr. Risden. Even if you stay with your doctor, you can feel calmer and confident knowing you did everything you could to be a well-informed patient. After all, peace of mind is priceless.

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