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Understanding the different types of second opinions
A second opinion can be a valuable tool in many situations. You may want to consider seeking a second opinion when:
- You’ve been diagnosed with a serious or complex health problem
- You’ve received a recommendation for non-emergency or elective surgery
- You’ve been diagnosed with a rare condition
- Your diagnosis is unclear
- There’s more than one treatment option for your condition
- You’re not comfortable with your doctor or your concerns and questions aren’t being taken seriously
If you’re not familiar with medical second opinions, you might assume that getting a second opinion always involves seeing another doctor, in person or virtually, and going through the whole examination, testing, and diagnosis process a second time. But that’s not always the case.
There are several different approaches to second opinions. You may only need another pathologist to review your tissue samples, a radiologist to review your imaging, or a specialist to review your blood test results. If a specialist has recommended elective surgery, like back surgery or joint replacement, you may want to get a second opinion from a healthcare provider who specializes in non-surgical approaches. And if the first doctor wasn’t able to make a definitive diagnosis or suggested several different potential treatments, you may want to seek an opinion from a specialist at an academic medical center of excellence, where providers have more experience, see a larger number of patients with complex medical conditions, and are up to date on the latest treatment options.
A health advisor or health navigator can not only help connect you to experienced specialists for in-person or virtual second opinions, they can also help you with the next steps. If your second opinion confirms your diagnosis and treatment plan, an advisor or navigator can answer any questions you have about your condition or treatment and help you choose an experienced healthcare provider to provide your treatment.
If your second opinion changes your diagnosis, suggests a different treatment, or changes which doctor you choose to provide your care, a health advisor or health navigator can help you understand and weigh your options using evidence-based information and even arrange another opinion if you’d like the input of other experienced specialists before making a decision.
Some people are hesitant about seeking a second opinion. They worry that the first doctor will react negatively, but most physicians welcome the insights of their colleagues. Another concern that gets in the way of people seeking a second opinion is feeling they need to start treatment right away. In most cases, as long as you’re not facing an emergency, you can safely take the time to get a second opinion and make sure you’re getting the most appropriate treatment for your condition.