Though most people will make at least one major medical decision in their life, nearly 70% of Americans don’t seek additional information or opinions before choosing a treatment, according to a poll conducted by the Harvard Health Letter editors.
But asking another doctor what they think could save you time, money and, in rare cases, your life.
Smaller, more common medical treatments don’t often warrant a second opinion, but a bigger decision might. Some of the most common cases are an unusually expensive or risky treatment, if you are unclear about how a certain treatment could help you, or if you question your diagnosis.
If you find yourself in this position and consider asking for help, don’t be shy. Keep in mind the American College of Surgeons advises getting a second opinion before a surgery as good medical practice, while Harvard Health Publishing says your doctor might not be the right fit if they are offended by a request for another opinion.
Ask your primary care doctor for a specialist referral but make sure to ask for one who doesn’t work closely with your current specialist. A doctor with a different background may also be able to provide fresh insight. Your doctor won’t likely be offended; getting extra opinions is common for a big medical decision. Remember that the right doctor will support patient autonomy and should not try to prevent you from learning more about your treatment plan.
But if you are still wary about asking your doctor for a name, according to Cigna, the next best option is to turn to your insurance company or a nearby university hospital for help. Some insurance companies will even require a second opinion for a major or medically necessary treatment plan, or will cover a third opinion for a particularly complicated case.
No matter how you find a second specialist, take responsibility to inform them enough to help you with the decision. Have your medical records ready before your appointment and ask to have your first opinion documents sent over beforehand. Cigna also recommends bringing records from each specialist to your primary care doctor afterwards and requesting help with your interpretation.