How to prepare for a virtual second opinion

November 3, 2020 in Second Opinion  •  By Miles Varn, MD
virtual second opinion

A second opinion is an important tool that can help lower your risk of misdiagnosis, medical errors, and inappropriate treatment and ensure you’re aware of all appropriate treatment options. Second opinions are especially important if your doctor has recommended surgery or you’ve been diagnosed with a complex or rare health problem.

Getting a second opinion from a doctor with extensive experience treating your condition is key. Although you could travel to a medical center of excellence for your second opinion, a growing number of physicians and medical centers across the country provide virtual second opinions, which eliminates the need for travel, a benefit when you’re stressed or not feeling well.

These tips will help you be as well prepared as possible so you can gather the information you need to make an informed decision about your treatment:

  • Collect and review your medical records. The doctor providing your second opinion needs to know our medical and family history, the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, what diagnostic testing you’ve undergone and the results of those tests, and the diagnosis and treatment plan your doctor has recommended. If you’re currently being treated by several doctors, for example a primary care physician, cardiologist, and oncologist, you’ll need to provide your medical records from all of these healthcare providers. Once you’ve gathered all the pertinent medical records, it’s wise to review them to make sure the information is accurate and current. A health advisor can help you create an accurate, comprehensive digital medical record that you can share securely with physicians anywhere.
  • Develop a list of questions. Find out whether you’ll need to submit your questions before the appointment and if there is a limit on the number of questions you can ask. Then develop your list. Questions you may want to ask include: Are there further tests I should undergo to confirm my diagnosis? What other treatment options are available and what are their risks and benefits compared to my current recommendation? How quickly do I need to make a decision on which treatment I’ll undergo and what are the risks of not starting treatment right away? Am I eligible for a clinical trial?
  • Have an advocate with you during the appointment. Studies have found that approximately 80% of what doctors say to their patients is forgotten when they leave the office. And when you’re worried about your diagnosis and finding the best treatment, it can be even harder to keep track of everything the doctor says during your virtual second opinion. That’s why it’s helpful to have an advocate or support person with you during your appointment. That person can take notes and ask for clarification if the doctor is using unfamiliar medical terminology or explaining complex treatment regimens. Before the appointment, you can also ask if you may record your second opinion and whether the doctor will provide you with a written version of what you discuss so that you can refer back to it and share it with your first doctor.