Getting a Second Opinion
Your doctor has just told you that you have cancer. Your mind is racing. You have many questions for your doctor. One may be, “Should I get a second opinion?”
A second opinion is when another doctor gives you his or her opinion on your condition.
When Is a Second Opinion Necessary?
The decision to get a second opinion may be up to you and your family, or it may be up to your health insurance plan. Many health plans require their members to get a second opinion before they will cover care. Some health plans only cover a second opinion if the member asks for one. Before you seek a second opinion, be sure to check with your health plan about its policy on second opinions.
You may want (or need) to get a second opinion if your doctor recommends non-emergency surgery or a serious treatment, such as chemotherapy. You may also decide to get a second opinion if you do not feel comfortable with your doctor, the diagnosis, or the treatment plan.
You should receive immediate care and postpone looking for a second opinion, however, if you need an emergency procedure. You can always look for a second opinion later.
Telling Your Doctor
Once you've decided to get a second opinion, you may worry about telling your doctor about your decision. Many experts feel that second opinions are part of good medical practice.
Second opinions are also your right as a patient. Your doctor should give the second doctor your medical records and any suggested treatment plans. This will help the second doctor form his or her own opinion about your condition.
It is also improper for the first doctor to end his or her relationship with you if you decide that you want a second opinion. If your first doctor is offended that you want a second opinion, you may ask yourself if this is the right doctor for you.
One benefit of telling your doctor that you'd like a second opinion is that he or she can help you find another doctor for a second opinion.
Finding a Second Opinion
With the explosive growth of the Internet, it's easy for people to find doctors and medical centers for the best care for their condition. The Internet has also helped people find others with the same medical condition.
Besides using your doctor as a reference source, you can contact your local medical society, hospital, medical school, or health plan. The Cancer Information Service is a toll-free service that recommends cancer treatment centers, including ones supported by the National Cancer Institute. You can reach them at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or visit their web site at www.cancer.gov.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists lists doctors, their specialties, and their educational background. If a doctor is certified by the ABMS, it means that he or she has had years of residency training, specialty practice, and has completed an extensive specialty exam. You can find the directory at your local library, or view it online at www.abms.org.
While researching doctors, it's also important to note if a surgeon is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. A fellow has the letters “FACS” after his or her name and title. A fellow is considered “professionally competent and ethically fit” by the American College of Surgeons.
Remember that it's your right to seek a second opinion. And keep in mind that research shows that people who are involved in their care often get better results than those who are not.