Three challenges to getting a second opinion and how to overcome them

September 13, 2021 in Second Opinion  •  By Miles Varn, MD
second opinion

A second opinion can be a valuable tool to help you ensure that your diagnosis is accurate and you’re choosing an appropriate treatment plan. Second opinions from experienced specialists can confirm or change your diagnosis and treatment options, lowering your risk of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that approximately 88% of people who sought second opinions for a complex medical condition at the hospital received a new or refined diagnosis that changed their treatment plan, while 21% of the diagnoses were completely changed. Our own data also highlights the value of second opinions– nearly 77% of second opinions we facilitated for members led to a change in diagnosis, treatment, or treating physician.

It’s wise to get a second opinion if:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with a serious or complex health problem.
  • You’ve received a recommendation for non-emergency surgery.
  • You’ve been diagnosed with a rare condition.
  • Your doctor can’t provide a definitive diagnosis.
  • There’s more than one appropriate and effective treatment for your condition.
  • You’re not comfortable with your doctor or your concerns and questions aren’t being taken seriously.

Barriers to getting a second opinion

There are a number of reasons that people don’t seek the second opinions they need:

  • I don’t have time to get a second opinion. When people are diagnosed with a serious condition such as cancer, they often feel they need to start treatment right away to achieve the best outcome. In most cases, however, unless you’re facing an emergency, you do not need to start treatment immediately and can safely take the time needed to get a second opinion. In fact, studies have found that cancer patients who get second opinions benefit from taking the time to seek them. One study found that 43% women diagnosed with breast cancer who sought a second opinion at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center with tumor board received a change in diagnosis. Another study of people diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma found that a second opinion changed the staging for 36% of these patients, which can affect the choice of treatment.
  • I don’t know where to get a second opinion. When you’re already under stress because of a serious diagnosis or a recommendation for surgery, it can be overwhelming to take on the task of finding and vetting potential specialists to provide a second opinion. And for lay people, it can also be difficult to judge a doctor’s level of experience and the quality of his or her outcomes. An experienced health advisor can take on this work and find the most appropriate and qualified specialists to provide your second opinion. An advisor can also expedite your access to the second opinion provider.
  • I don’t want to travel to get a second opinion. Travel to another city or state for a second opinion from a physician who’s experienced in treating your condition isn’t necessary in most cases. A health advisor can not only help you find the right specialist for your second opinion but can also arrange a remote second opinion. Remote second opinions can take two forms—a written remote opinion or a virtual second opinion. For the first option, your medical records will be shared with the specialists, who will review them, then provide a written report. A virtual second opinion includes a video consultation with the specialist or members of their team and, in some cases, a video appointment to discuss the recommendations.

Not only can a health advisor help you get the second opinion you need, an advisor can also gather and review your complete medical record and create a secure electronic medical record that can be shared instantly with any specialists anywhere in the world, provide evidence-based research on your diagnosis and treatment options, attend appointments with you to take notes and ask questions, and connect your with resources to support you throughout treatment and recovery, including nutritionists, physical therapists, counseling and support groups, stress management specialists, and wellness specialists.



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