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What is a Second Opinion?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

When people consult a new doctor after receiving a diagnosis or treatment recommendation, that doctor's contribution to the patient's case is known as a second opinion. Second opinions can serve a variety of functions, and some doctors even actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion. The primary goal of a patient looking for a second opinion is the confirmation that the patient is receiving the best and most appropriate care possible.

One of the main reasons people ask for a second opinion is that they want to confirm a diagnosis. This is especially common in situations where people have rare or unusual conditions, or something about their case is especially difficult. Getting a second doctor to look at the available information and provide a diagnosis can be a great way to confirm that the first diagnosis is correct.

Patients sometimes seek a diagnosis opinion from a secondary medical professional.
Patients sometimes seek a diagnosis opinion from a secondary medical professional.

Getting a second opinion can also make a patient aware of additional treatment options. Every doctor has his or her favorite approach to treatment, but this may not be the best approach for the patient. Other doctors may not be current on the research on a particular condition, with specialists or doctors in urban areas sometimes offering better treatment options. For example, one oncologist might recommend a full mastectomy for a case of breast cancer, while another might suggest a lumpectomy, in which only part of the tissue is removed, based on experience with similar cases.

Second opinion consultations can sometimes be very expensive.
Second opinion consultations can sometimes be very expensive.

Some patients find that they do not get along very well with their primary doctors, and getting a second opinion gives them a chance to interact with a different doctor to see if they want to switch. Second opinions can also be useful for patients who received an initial diagnosis from a primary care provider or general practitioner, as they can seek out a specialist who may have more experience and knowledge.

Getting a second opinion allows a patient to interact with a different doctor to decide if the patient wants to switch.
Getting a second opinion allows a patient to interact with a different doctor to decide if the patient wants to switch.

Patients who want a second opinion should gather as much information as possible for the appointment. It is a good idea to talk to the doctor who provided the initial diagnosis, and to collect any medical imaging studies and test results. Many doctors respect the desire for a second opinion, and they may be able to offer a referral to another care provider. Patients can also ask for a full copy of their medical file to take to the appointment. It is also a good idea to research available doctors to find the best one for a second opinion. Asking friends, checking hospital or doctor ratings in publications such as newspapers and magazines, and consulting with organizations which help patients with specific conditions is a good way to start researching.

A second opinion often requires explaining symptoms to a new doctor.
A second opinion often requires explaining symptoms to a new doctor.

Many insurance companies do not cover second opinions, which is an important issue to consider, as these consultations can sometimes be very expensive, especially if patients choose to see a world-renowned specialist. Many doctors also do not like to know what the initial diagnosis was, so that they can draw their own conclusions from the available information.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Patients sometimes seek a diagnosis opinion from a secondary medical professional.
      By: laszlolorik
      Patients sometimes seek a diagnosis opinion from a secondary medical professional.
    • Second opinion consultations can sometimes be very expensive.
      By: Monkey Business
      Second opinion consultations can sometimes be very expensive.
    • Getting a second opinion allows a patient to interact with a different doctor to decide if the patient wants to switch.
      By: nyul
      Getting a second opinion allows a patient to interact with a different doctor to decide if the patient wants to switch.
    • A second opinion often requires explaining symptoms to a new doctor.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      A second opinion often requires explaining symptoms to a new doctor.
    • Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion.
      By: edbockstock
      Some doctors actively encourage their patients to seek out a second opinion.