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When and how to go about getting a second opinion

If you're like most Americans, you place a lot of trust in your doctor. Physicians undergo considerable schooling and training to get where they are. They're some of society's best and brightest.

That doesn't mean they never make mistakes. In some situations, it's wise to get a second medical opinion to see if it aligns with an initial diagnosis or recommendation. Most respected doctors will agree that getting a second opinion (or a specialist's opinion) is a smart move.

When should you consider it?

Generally, it's a good idea to seek a second medical opinion when:

  1. Your diagnosis is especially rare, serious or life-threatening: Diagnostic methods and testing aren't foolproof. Getting a confirmation of your diagnosis is essential for ensuring accuracy.
  2. You're facing invasive, risky or lengthy recommended treatments: When it comes to pursuing treatment, you want to make as informed a decision as possible. This is especially true if the treatment has harsh side effects or significant downsides - or if it isn't covered by insurance.
  3. You're considering surgery: Any time you go under the knife, you face considerable risks: reactions to anesthetics, infections and other complications, to name a few. As with any type of invasive treatment, make sure you're well-informed before moving forward.
  4. Your doctor isn't listening: It's unfortunate, but some medical professionals don't take patients' concerns seriously. The alarming prevalence of misdiagnosis (and delayed diagnosis) illustrates this fact. If you feel like your doctor isn't listening, or is giving you the brush-off, it might be time to find someone else.

Don't make this mistake

If you decide to move forward with getting a second opinion, avoid selecting a doctor who knows the first doctor, whether personally or professionally. For example, don't go to another doctor from the same small practice. The idea is to make sure the two opinions come from two entirely separate and unrelated sources. You don't want the physicians' personal or professional relationship to get in the way of a detached analysis.

Don't hesitate to seek a second opinion at any time. You won't hurt your doctor's feelings. As the patient, it's your health and your body - and therefore your prerogative.

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