How to talk to your doctor about a medical second opinion

16:03 17 September in Health

Checking up on a diagnosis or treatment plan via a medical second opinion is good medicine.

Taking a deep breath and telling your physician that you’ve decided to seek a medical second opinion is an important moment along the way to better health. Yes, it’s natural to feel a little nervous – or even worry that your doctor may feel you aren’t being loyal. But the truth is your doctor will likely encourage this smart step.

Top five things to know about requesting a medical second opinion

Here are five top-line things to know about the process that ensure you can discuss your needs confidently and receive the information and help you need:   

#1. Second opinions are a normal, expected, and smart part of healthcare. “Most physicians encourage second and even third opinions,” says the American Heart Association. A second opinion is “a normal part of cancer care,” according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. And the American Medical Association advises physicians to “assure the patient that he or she may seek a second opinion” Today it’s standard medical practice.

Don’t be nervous! “Lots of people are concerned about their doctor thinking they are doubting his or her good work. But in fact, we get the exact opposite response from physicians themselves,” says Richard Heinzl, MD, MPH, Global Medical Director at WorldCare International, Inc. a provider of medical second opinion services involving multi-disciplinary teams. “Doctors know that a medical second opinion is good medicine. Members’ physicians are involved. They help the patient understand the second opinion.”  

#2. Getting a second opinion is your right…and responsibility.  If you are not sure how your doctor will react, you may hesitate before telling him or her you’d like a second opinion. You’re not alone. In one recent study at a large Australian hospital, cancer patients said they were concerned that getting a second opinion might affect their relationship with their primary physician.

Remember, though, that seeking more information about your condition and your care is your right as a patient — and your responsibility as a healthcare consumer.  Results of second opinions often confirm or clarify an initial diagnosis or treatment plan, increasing your confidence in your physician and his or her approach. That strengthens your relationship with your physician.

Of course, sometimes a second opinion does not confirm the original diagnosis. When WorldCare reaches a different opinion, “we go back to the referring physician and explain what we believe is the correct diagnosis,” Dr. Heinzl says. “This communication and collaboration is well-received by the physicians.”

#3: Being upfront keeps communication open. There are many ways to start a discussion about getting a medical second opinion.  Remember, this is an opportunity to show your doctor that you value his or her views and your relationship. If you’re not sure how to talk to your doctor about the process, you might say something like:

  • “I value and trust you, but I want to be sure my tests have been accurately interpreted before we move ahead. I feel another medical opinion will help me cover my bases.”   
  • “I want to be sure I understand all of my treatment options. I think a second opinion will be helpful for me.”
  • “You know I respect your opinion, but it’s important to me to consult with another expert so that I feel completely confident in our treatment plan.”   


#4. Talk through the process. Let your doctor know you will need your medical records, images, and test results so that the specialists handling your second opinion may review them.Your doctor will provide them, but sometimes you may have to pay a fee for copies. If you use a medical second opinion provider such as WorldCare, they will work with your doctor to insure that specialists receive all needed materials. This takes a burden off you and makes the process clear and easy for your doctor’s office staff, too.

#5. Assure your doctor that she or he remains at the center of your care.  In most cases, your doctor will be the one continuing to take care of you. (The decision is yours, of course.) Whether you’re seeking a medical second opinion to receive answers to lingering questions, to confirm or clarify your diagnosis, or evaluate a treatment plan, it’s vital that your original doctor receives detailed information in writing in a timely manner and also has ample opportunity to communicate with those providing your second opinion.  Assure your doctor that she or he will stay in the loop.  WorldCare’s medical directors, for example, can discuss the medical second opinion report directly with your physician by phone, Dr. Heinzl says. Working as a team, you and your primary doctor can make well-informed decisions together about your care after you’ve received a second, or even a third, opinion.

If you want to take the next step

If you are a current WorldCare member and would like request a medical second opinion, contact us. If you are an employer/insurer who would like to offer medical second opinions, please contact us to learn more.