Your Health: Getting a Second Opinion

What is a second opinion?

A second opinion is asking another physician or specialist to examine your case. She will then provide a diagnosis and offer treatment options.

Why should I get a second opinion?

Your insurance company or employer may require you to obtain a second opinion for health insurance purposes.

You yourself might also personally want a second opinion for good measure. Another doctor might modify the diagnosis and/or treatment options, or he might reaffirm the previous physician’s opinion. A second opinion can give you a piece of mind and helps you understand your healthcare choices.

Remember, the second opinion may not result in a ‘better’ or different diagnosis. It is your decision to make about which treatment options are best for you and your body.

When should I get a second opinion?

That is always up to you.

Most insurance plans cover second opinions. However, they might charge extra fees. Talk to your health insurance agent or review your policy before making extra doctor visits.

You may also want to consider obtaining a second opinion if you have been presented with a major diagnosis (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, infertility, etc.) or major treatment options (i.e. chemotherapy, drug therapy, surgery).

Who should I see for a second opinion?

It may be more beneficial to visit a doctor in another health care facility or hospital, or even another town. If it is a major diagnosis, you may want to consider seeing a specialist or a different type of specialist for a second opinion. Specialists have advanced training in certain areas and sometimes work together. Ask your doctor for referrals or a list of specialists in your area of concern.

WHN TIP: Qualified Specialist

Make sure that your second visit is from a qualified specialist. Check with DocFinder, an online physician directory, or your state’s medical licensing board to see if your doctor’s license is up-to-date and accurate.

WHN TIP: Get familiar

Be familiar with the parking, how to access the maternity ward, and where to go if you arrive after hours (at many hospitals you'll need to enter through the emergency room entrance).

What can I do to prepare for my second opinion visit?

  1. Clarify
    • Make sure you fully understand the opinion of the first doctor.
    • Research the treatment options and diagnosis made by your first doctor.
    • Write down any questions you might have and contact your first doctor to answer them.
  2. Prepare - If you are visiting a doctor for a second opinion be sure to:
    • Write down the symptoms you have been experiencing.
    • Write down any initial questions you may have.
    • Write down the first diagnosis and treatment options.
  3. What to Bring
    • If you are visiting a different doctor at another healthcare facility, be sure to bring copies of your medical records with you – all of them. Don’t forget your x-rays, list of medications, immunizations, past surgeries and illnesses, allergies and your family medical history.
    • Bring your current health insurance card and information. You might have to bring money for a co-pay fee, depending on your health care coverage.
    • Bring pen and paper to take notes.
    • Bring a family member or friend for support, if you wish.

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with a doctor or other appropriate medical professional you trust before making any healthcare changes.

Updated: 5/2009