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Should You Get a Second Opinion? Definitely.

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James Wu, MD is LVHN's Chief, Cardiac Surgery and a cardiothoracic surgeon with LVPG Cardio and Thoracic Surgery–1250 Cedar Crest. His own experience of losing a loved one to a cardiac condition drives him to be the best he can be at all times for his patients and their families.

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It can be a scary proposition. A health care provider has just told you that you need surgery or some major procedure in order to take care of your condition. What’s the first thing you should do?

First of all, if it’s an emergency situation, you likely don’t have time to investigate other choices. But if it’s not something that requires immediacy, I’d recommend getting a second opinion. You owe it to yourself in order to be certain the diagnosis you’re hearing is correct and the recommended treatment is your best option.

Why should you seek a second opinion? If you check your health plan, you might find out your carrier requires it for surgery and major procedures. But primarily, a second opinion is for your own peace of mind.

Having another physician agree with the diagnosis and course of action should give you confidence in a difficult situation. And sometimes a second opinion might yield a different diagnosis or treatment option as well. It happens more often than you might think.

Conversely, patients actually getting a second opinion doesn’t happen as often as you might think. According to a 2005 Gallop Poll, about half of American patients never get a second opinion. That’s rather startling when you consider we’re talking about a person’s well-being going forward and many times about a person’s life.

Some patients believe they may be offending their physician by asking for a second opinion. On the contrary, most physicians would expect it and beyond that, even encourage it, especially where we’re talking about a serious condition.

Aside from having a health plan that requires it, when should you ask for a second opinion?

  • When your doctor tells you that your condition is very serious or life-threatening, or you have a variety of medical issues.
  • When the diagnosis seems uncertain to you.
  • When the treatment involves an element of risk or is experimental.
  • When you feel uncomfortable or uncertain about your provider.

When seeking a second opinion, you should find a provider with at least the same level of expertise or greater if possible, meaning a specialist in the field of your condition. It’s best to find one who works with a different medical institution or network. And if the second opinion differs significantly from your first diagnosis and/or treatment recommendation, you should consider a third and perhaps a fourth if you deem it necessary. Be sure to check with your insurance carrier about coverage of second opinions and beyond.

Don’t ever hesitate to ask your provider about getting a second opinion when discussing your health or the health of someone you love. In the end, the correct diagnosis and treatment always is what matters most.