A group of 3 doctors, each providing a different result

Getting a Second Opinion

Being diagnosed with cancer can feel traumatizing, and what follows can be a blur. Often patients are given a lot of information in a very small amount of time. This can be communicated in a scientific and medical way that is difficult to understand and process. They are asked to make huge, life-changing decisions, in a finite amount of time. Making decisions about cancer and cancer treatment can feel very overwhelming (to put it lightly).

Why get a second opinion?

Sometimes a cancer diagnosis is medically straightforward; something is caught early with a clearcut and standardized curative treatment approach. Often, decisions about treatment can be difficult to make. Perhaps there are certain side effects of which you are weary, and looking for alternatives. A rare diagnosis may present limited options or clinical trials. Two specialists may give you conflicting information.

Sometimes a member of the health care team might suggest getting a second opinion. A physician themselves may be conflicted about what path you should choose, and seek the counsel of a trusted colleague. Alternatively, you may not have a good working connection with your provider, due to personality or treatment approach. In this case, you could be directed to another provider that may be better able to meet your needs. If this happens, it doesn’t mean that your health care provider does not care about your situation. They want to make certain you get the best possible answer from a professional who specializes in that area. In fact, many providers would encourage you to seek a second opinion if you desire and it would make you more comfortable.

Practical issues

If you have decided to pursue a second opinion, it is important to address some practical issues. First, call your insurance company to determine if they will cover a second opinion. Oftentimes they will, but if they do not offer coverage then you should find out upfront what the potential costs will be. Once you schedule an appointment, be sure to have your records sent to the new provider. If possible, obtain a copy of your records for yourself as well that you can bring along, in addition to hard copies of any scans or other items that may be on a disc. If both providers use the same electronic medical records (i.e. EPIC), make sure you know how to access your portal and agree to share records between providers, as well as signing any paper consent forms necessary.

Bring someone with you to your appointments so you have a second set of ears hearing the information presented. Additionally, write down any questions you may have in advance, and bring these to your appointments. Take notes and have any records and reports sent back to your primary doctor.

What next?

After getting a second opinion, make a follow-up appointment with your primary doctor. The second opinion may confirm your primary doctor’s plan of care, or may present conflicting information. Hopefully, the second opinion will help you feel more confident about your plan of care moving forward.

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