Major medical diagnoses are life-changing events, which is why it can be surprising when people discover how rare it actually is to seek out a second opinion following the announcement of such a diagnosis-or the exclusion of it. In fact, there was a Gallup survey of Americans in the mid-2000s that covered 5,000 contributors and found that just about half reported never seeking a second opinion at all.
That’s startling because while doctors regularly double-check test results when the stakes are high, different doctors with different methods and backgrounds often come to different conclusions. In the same Huffington Post article that reported the results of the Gallup poll, it was found that 18 percent of those whose insurance companies required a second opinion for elective surgery got one that did not agree with the first opinion. That is startling enough for elective procedures, but for diseases like cancer or heart disease, it can be a matter of life or death.
Why people shy away from a second opinion
While it might seem intuitive to go for it, people avoid second opinions for a variety of reasons that seem right at the time. Such reasons include:
- Believing time is of the essence and that treatment should start right away
- They are under the impression that medicine is an exact science
- They are worried that a second opinion will confuse them and make medical decisions harder
These are reasonable concerns, but if the diagnosis is incorrect or if the doctor excluded or overlooked some of your results, then a second opinion is just a simple matter of protecting yourself. If, however, your doctor was unambiguously correct, a second opinion will likely show it.
When to seek a second opinion
While many doctors actively encourage patients to seek a second opinion when they have confidence in their conclusions, some do have policies that seem to discourage it. Luckily, U.S. News and World Report put together a guide for patients seeking second opinions that outlines the basics, including:
- When the treatment you face might be toxic, or when it is likely to be lifelong or invasive, you need another opinion.
- The second opinion needs to have no relation to the first doctor, personally or professionally.
- Remember, the second opinion is not automatically correct. If you do not get results that agree with one another, it’s time for another consultation.
While having a second opinion is important, there are still ways medical negligence or malpractice can impact patients, especially if they accidentally go for a second opinion with a conflict of interest, like one in the same practice as the initial doctor. That can lead to medical malpractice, and if you suspect it has, then you should talk to an attorney right away.