Second Opinion - Make Your Health Decisions With Confidence

What do you do when you think your first medical diagnosis is wrong? Read how to get a second opinion and make your health decisions with confidence.

Receiving bad news from a primary care provider (PCP) or specialist/surgeon is a stressful and challenging experience. Alternately, receiving a diagnosis stating you are all clear when you are convinced something more is wrong is also stressful. Getting a second medical opinion helps confirm test results and ease your mind as a patient. What are the steps needed for getting a second opinion? Is there a definitively best way to compare your initial diagnosis with the diagnosis from a second opinion?

There are processes for uploading your personal information and medical records to a second opinion doctor or medical specialist. How do you find an alternative doctor who is right for you? Read on for information about how to get a second opinion and make your important health decisions with confidence.

Why Getting a Second Option is Important to Your Health

Modern technology helps make medical testing of all types more accurate. The depth of information available from laboratory tests, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and more is conceptually nothing short of amazing. How is it so many tests are wrong? There is a harsh aspect of reality many people do not want to believe about the medical industry. People make mistakes and doctors are people too. The list of people who also make mistakes includes laboratory technicians, specialists, nurses, surgeons, medical billing/coding employees and more.

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic discovered only twelve percent of cancer patients pursuing second opinions through the Mayo Clinic obtained the same results as documented in their initial diagnoses and medical records. This means eighty-eight percent received second opinions in some way different than initially diagnosed. How are numbers such as this possible in a field where accuracy is so important? 

Finding the right doctor is often crucial to getting the results and accuracy you need. Most health insurance plans require patients to go to medical providers in-network with the insurance company, limiting options for patients to make their own choices. Even when you trust your doctor, however, getting a second opinion for serious medical matters literally has the potential to mean life or death.

The Process for Uploading Personal Information & Medical Records

The collection and delivery of your medical records to third-party participants previously involved a process more akin to a government-administered immigration examination than a simple request for information to which you have every right to possess. In modern times your medical records are stored digitally and (ideally) backed up on encrypted, cloud-based servers. On December 13, 2016 the U.S. federal government passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The primary function of the law is to implement the use of the Integrated Health Record (IHR) system. The IHR system is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform created to work in coordination with the more limited electronic medical record (EMR) platform. In layman’s terms the IHR places all your medical records in a centralized location where doctors anywhere in the U.S. are capable of accessing them when applicable.

The IHR system does not completely negate the need to fax, email or upload certain records, referrals and permissions to your second opinion doctor. The system does most likely make it possible for the office of your first doctor to quickly and accurately get the information where it needs to go without requiring much action from you. Some insurance companies, mainly Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), require referrals from your PCP before allowing any specialists to be seen. The majority of HMOs also require insurance referrals, which are a different type of referral. In these cases you will need to set up an appointment with your PCP and have the referrals faxed or uploaded as applicable. 

Comparing a Second Opinion with Your Initial Diagnosis

Once a second medical opinion is obtained it is important to know how to compare it with your first diagnosis. This is of course necessary only when the first and second diagnoses differ from each other. It is also not something most patients are capable of doing on their own accord due to a lack of training and medical-based education. What are the best methods of comparing a second opinion with your initial diagnosis?

  • The process needs to involve communication with both doctors providing a diagnosis/opinion. Occasionally it requires communication between them as well, if possible.

  • Ask each doctor what specific clinical guidelines or regulations they used to reach their diagnosis and create your plan for treatment.

  • Ask them what the chances are for a different diagnosis to be both possible and accurate. Find out if any additional testing would help further clarify your results.

  • Show the alternate doctor’s diagnosis and treatment suggestions to each opposing doctor.

  • Ask him or her why he or she thinks they are personally correct over the opinions and findings indicated in the alternate doctor’s diagnosis. Press both doctors about all possible side effects of his or her treatment plan.

  • Ask about all potential complications as well as the benefits vs. risks of their plans.

  • Finally, although it might feel uncomfortable, ask both doctors how frequently they use your treatment plan on patients with the same or a similar diagnosis. It is within your rights to ask this as well as the success ratios each doctor has had using your plan. 

Advantages of Getting a Second Opinion

The first advantage to getting a second opinion is simply how the results could potentially save your life. Another advantage is the peace of mind provided when a second opinion either matches your initial diagnosis or confirms your suspicions about something else being wrong. Second opinions, when correct and different from your initial diagnosis prevent wasted time and possible out-of-pocket expenses from unneeded tests. Another advantage of getting a second opinion involves reducing the risk of your insurance company denying treatments and medicines deemed not medially necessary.