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The practice of getting a second opinion is common. People ask for a second opinion about many different types of things: buying cars and clothes, trying new recipes or workout plans, and virtually everything else.
However, medical second opinions tend to be somewhat of a taboo topic, even though the practice of getting a second opinion has been around for decades. Patients, employers, and insurance plan providers have sought second opinions in a variety of situations, and especially when someone faces the possibility of a life-threatening illness, surgery, or other invasive medical treatment.
But for some reason people are often uneasy about asking for a medical second opinion. They may see it as questioning the medical expertise and authority of a health-care professional, while others fear they may be punished in some way if they question their doctor’s diagnosis.
Then there are the questions of whether medical second opinions save money or improve the quality of care. Is a second opinion necessary? If so, under what circumstances? How often are diagnoses or treatments changed after talking to another doctor?
These questions are debated on a regular basis, and the view on the matter often varies based on a person’s position (patient, doctor, or insurer).
In general, you probably don’t need to seek the advice of another doctor for minor issues. If you are having symptoms that are uncommon, terminal, chronic, or having a negative impact on your quality of life, then exploring your options is a good approach.
Being faced with surgery or being diagnosed with a heart issue, diabetes, or cancer, or having an unexplained medical issue are all situations in which a second opinion can help improve quality of life, provide treatment options, or avoid a mistaken diagnosis.
If you are faced with an important decision about your health, collecting multiple opinions and talking to a number of health-care providers is one of the most effective ways to ensure you choose the best treatment.
Some of the benefits of obtaining medical advice from multiple sources include:
A couple of recent studies examined the role of getting multiple medical opinions and the impact they have on treatment changes and getting a different diagnosis.
As outlined by the Center for Advancing Health, here is what these studies found:
In a University of Michigan study of breast cancer patients, more than half of them changed their treatment after getting a second opinion on their diagnosis from a ‘tumor board’ of oncologists, surgeons, and radiation experts. In a Johns Hopkins study of 6,000 cancer patients, researchers found that one to two of every 100 patients who sought a second opinion after a tumor biopsy had received a wrong diagnosis.
These studies reaffirm the benefits of seeking an alternative opinion if you’re diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
If you want a second opinion for an existing medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment, you have many options available to you. If you are covered by a group health insurance plan, ask your benefits administrator if your plan has a second opinion service as a covered benefit. Most leading health insurance companies offer this type of service.