Here’s how to get a second opinion (and when you should)

Dr. Carl Streed Jr, MD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Boston University School of Medicine, who has chaired the American Medical Association Advisory Committee on LGBTQ Issues and served on the board of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. In addition to being a primary care clinician, Dr. Streed is the Research Lead for the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Boston Medical Center and collaborates with researchers, clinicians, and staff to assess and address the health and well-being of transgender and gender diverse individuals.

The way we approach many of life’s major decisions, such as buying a house or pursuing a career path, is by doing research and checking out other options to confirm the choice we’re making is the best one for us. With that in mind, it only makes sense that we’d apply the same curiosity in navigating the most important thing we have — our health.

One of the best ways you can ensure you’re getting the best treatment or care for your concerns is by having another clinician evaluate you for a second opinion. While second opinions are more commonly sought out in settings of a specific condition or concern — such as unexplained symptoms or cancer diagnosis and treatment — getting a second opinion doesn’t have to be limited to a specific scenario. Seeking out another perspective, whether it be from a specialist or not, is just another tool you can utilize during your patient care journey.

In 2017, a study showed that 21% of patients who sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic left with a completely new diagnosis. It showed that 66% of initial diagnoses were deemed partly correct, but the second opinions made a further refined diagnosis possible.

As part of our patient advocacy editorial series, we spoke with Dr. Carl Streed Jr, MD, MPH, to better understand how to go about getting a second opinion. Below, he answers questions you may have including when to get a second opinion, what to tell your primary provider, and more:

When should you get a second opinion?

Dr. Streed: “You should get a second opinion whenever you feel you need more information and your current clinician is not trained to provide additional information or is, for any reason, not able to provide a satisfactory diagnosis or treatment plan.”

How do I tell my doctor I want a second opinion?

Dr. Streed: “This is your health and well-being we’re talking about — you should feel comfortable asking for a second opinion whenever you feel you need more information that your current clinician cannot provide. You politely inform your clinician that you would like additional information stating specifically that ‘I would like a second opinion.’ All clinicians should be receptive to this request and offer a series of options, such as referrals to colleagues in the same specialty or referrals to colleagues in other specialties to explore alternative diagnoses and treatments.”

Is there anything specific to keep in mind to be prepared for the appointment with the second healthcare provider?

Dr. Streed: “When meeting with a clinician for a second opinion, you’ll want to bring all information and test results from the prior clinical evaluation. This will help them to more quickly determine what testing and treatment options have been tried before and allow them to go further in-depth in their evaluation with you and consider alternative diagnostic and/or treatment modalities.”

When seeking a second opinion, should I go outside of my current practitioner’s healthcare group?

Dr. Streed: “It’s not necessary to seek a second opinion outside your current clinician’s health care practice or group. Often, staying within your existing health care network will allow for a more rapid second opinion as well as information transfer for the second opinion. However, if you choose to seek a second opinion outside your current network, determine what you’ll be expected to bring to the clinical encounter and determine if your insurance will cover the second opinion.”

Should I share the concerns I had with my previous provider to my new one?

Dr. Streed: “You should be honest in sharing what has prompted you seeking a second opinion. If there are issues with bedside manner, it will help set the tone for the new clinician.”

Is it better to seek a second opinion from a doctor with the same specialty, or a different one?

Dr. Streed: “Seeking a second opinion will depend on the concern or condition you’re trying to address. If there is already a clear diagnosis and treatment options are being explored, it’s often best to stay within the same specialty. If you still do not have a diagnosis, your current clinician should help you in determining the next best specialty to provide an evaluation.”

References: 1. Mayo Clinic: The value of second opinions demonstrated in study. Science Daily. URL. Accessed September 15, 2022.

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