Today I want to discuss with you a topic near and dear to my heart: how to know when you should get a second opinion. We live in a culture where doctors are revered and we’ve been told not to question them or their decisions for our health.
But the truth of the matter is that we shouldn’t see their comments as decisions but more as recommendations that we then consider in light of what we instinctually know about our personal health situation. Now, sometimes a physician’s recommendation is on point, but other times it’s not.
So, how do you know when to follow your doctor’s advice and when to seek a second opinion? Keep reading to get the answer to this along with why getting a second opinion is important and what you should expect.
What Is a Second Opinion?
Let’s start by discussing something that may sound obvious but perhaps isn’t quite what you’re expecting: What is a second opinion?
Technically speaking, getting a second opinion is seeking advice from an expert (in this case it’s as a doctor) to see if this assessment and advice aligns with those of the first expert. In healthcare, this expert is often referred to as a “second opinion doctor,” and can be anything from a general practitioner (such as a medical doctor or naturopathic physician) to a specialist, depending on your situation.
In order to dive into more details about seeking out a second opinion doctor and what to expect and why it’s important, let’s take a look at the different situations that warrant getting a second opinion.
5 Situations that Warrant a Second Opinion
So, when and why is a second opinion important? Let’s take a look at some of the top health-focused situations in which you will want or need to seek a second opinion.
1. Your doctor has diagnosed you with a life-changing condition or illness.
Whether it’s a diagnosis of a lifestyle-induced illness or a hereditary condition, receiving the news that you have an illness that could either shorten your life or radically change your lifestyle is devastating.
Sometimes there’s a question of whether or not this is really happening and if the doctor could have made a mistake. That’s why I always recommend seeking a second opinion from a qualified medical expert. Have your second opinion doctor review any labs, imaging, history of symptoms, etc. before providing his or her thoughts. Also, be aware that your second opinion doctor may want to run his or her own labs or tests, too.
2. Your doctor has recommended medications that come with major and/or undesired side effects.
Don’t think that seeking out a second opinion is only necessary in cases of life-or-death diagnoses. The truth is that certain medications such as statins and metformin come with a variety of undesired side effects that can leave you feeling worse than you do now!
If your physician has recommended that you begin a new medication to support anything from your blood sugar levels to your blood pressure or cholesterol, I always recommend seeking a second opinion—and this is where consulting with a naturopathic physician can be a great choice. He or she will look at all of your history and test results and help you determine if there are all-natural alternatives to certain medications or if you do, in fact, need to begin certain medications.
The caveat here, though, is that if you do decide to start on a new medication for something that can be improved with lifestyle changes, you’ll want to consult with your doctor about what measures you can take—with everything from your diet to your exercise habits to your stress management—and develop a plan to reduce your need for those medications over time.
3. Your doctor has recommended surgery.
While some surgeries are absolutely necessary and critical, others aren’t—but it can be hard to truly discern that on your own. If your primary physician has recommended a surgical procedure, it’s always a great idea to seek a second opinion just make sure that surgery is, in fact, the appropriate next step and that you have exhausted all other options.
Anytime you go under the knife, you’re putting external stress on your body, so you want to make sure the outcome is worth the experience.
4. Your insurance requires a second opinion.
Sometimes your insurance requires a second opinion before it will pay for a procedure. If you’re seeking a second opinion due to insurance demands, begin by asking your doctor for a referral to another physician and take along all necessary documentation to provide an entire health picture.
Things to make sure you include are all medications and/or supplements you’re currently taking, test results, lab work, and anything else your current physician may have taken into account when making his or her recommendation.
5. Your instinct is that something isn’t quite right with the first opinion/recommendation.
I can’t overstate how many of my patients have first come to me because their guts were screaming that the recommendation from their first doctor wasn’t the right fit or approach for them.
Whether you feel a diagnosis was incorrect or suspect there’s a better, more natural and gentler approach that could work for you, if your gut is telling you to seek out a second opinion doctor before moving forward with a certain medical decision, trust your instincts! After all, seeking a second opinion may not only save your sanity—it can also save your life! And if nothing else, the peace of mind that seeking a second opinion will provide is well worth it.
How to Get a Second Opinion
Finally, if you’re wondering how to get a second opinion, take heart that it should be a relatively straight-forward process. You can begin by asking your doctor to recommend someone to provide one.
Now, one common question people have is if doctors are offended by second opinions. Here’s my answer to that: If your doctor is offended, then you may not have the best doctor-patient relationship, and that’s a red flag. A good doctor will encourage you to ask questions and avoid any kind of judgmental behavior.
If your doctor refuses to provide a reputable recommendation for a second opinion doctor, ask friends and/or family about their physicians. You can also search for specialists, depending on your medical situation, and call to schedule an appointment for a second opinion.
When you do make the call, someone from the doctor’s office should tell you what they need you to bring, and they will likely have you fill out intake forms as well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what to expect from the appointment, including how long the doctor will spend with you, what experience they have with certain situation/areas of expertise, and whether they tend to take a more conservative or aggressive approach.
Each of these important answers will help you to determine if this is the right second opinion doctor for you. Remember, the whole point of getting a second opinion is to help you best determine your next course of action for your health—and feeling confident in the expert from whom you’re seeking that second opinion is critical for you to be truly empowered in your health journey.
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