The pros and cons of in-person and virtual second opinions

March 7, 2023 in Second Opinion
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A second opinion can be a valuable decision making tool for people who have been diagnosed with a complex, rare, or serious health problem or who have received a recommendation for surgery. You may also want to seek a second opinion if your current treatment isn’t working as expected, you live in an area where there aren’t many specialists experienced in caring for people with your condition, there’s more than one appropriate treatment for your condition, or your concerns and questions aren’t being taken seriously by your current doctor.

Second opinions from experienced specialists can confirm your diagnosis and treatment plan, giving you peace of mind. They also have the potential to change your diagnosis or treatment plan. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that approximately 88% of people who received second opinions for a complex medical condition at the hospital received a new or refined diagnosis that changed their treatment plan.  For 21% of the people in the study, a completely different diagnosis was reached.

In-person vs. virtual

There are two ways to get a second opinion—by making an in-person appointment with a specialist and by arranging a virtual second opinion. If you live in an area where there’s a major academic medical center or a large number of experienced specialists, you may want to make an in-person appointment with a specialist. The benefits of an in-person second opinion include:

  • The ability for the specialist to perform a physical exam in addition to reviewing the medical records and test results that led to your diagnosis
  • In some cases, more time to ask questions about your diagnosis and proposed treatment plan
  • The choice to transfer your care to the healthcare provider who provided the second opinion and receive your treatment or surgery from this specialist

The other option is to seek a virtual or remote second opinion. This option can be especially helpful if:

  • You’d need to travel a significant distance for your appointment
  • You don’t feel well enough to travel to get a second opinion
  • You live in an area where there aren’t many or any specialists with expertise in treating your condition, for example in a rural area where there are 30 specialists per capita compared to 263 per capita in urban areas
  • You’re having trouble getting an in-person appointment in a timely manner (You can usually get a virtual second opinion within a week or so, depending on how long it takes to gather your medical records.)

There are some ways that a virtual second opinion differs from an in-person appointment. Some second opinion providers deliver a written report they create after reviewing your medical records and test results, while others arrange a video visit to review their opinion with you. In some cases, there’s a limit to the number of questions you can ask the provider about their second opinion, but there are usually options to arrange a follow-up appointment or see the provider in-person.

A health advisor or Health Navigator, powered by PinnacleCare are other resources you can turn to if you want to seek a second opinion. They can help gather your medical records, connect you with specialists who are experienced treating your condition for an in-person or virtual second opinion, and provide you with evidence-based information about your diagnosis and all proposed treatment options.


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