Second Opinion FAQs

Should I always get a second opinion from doctors? There really is no right or wrong answer to this question. But consider this: if you're making major decisions about almost any other aspect of your life, don't you rely on more than one source of information? Have you ever bought a car, for example, on the spot, without days of research? Being a good consumer of your medical care means seeking as much information as possible so you can decide what is best for you. Of course, if you feel totally comfortable with your first opinion you don't have to get a second opinion. Meanwhile, consider these questions:

  • How serious is my condition?
  • Should I get independent verification of the information?
  • Is there any chance that there is a better treatment for me?
  • How big an impact will the decisions I'm making have on my life?
  • Do I have any doubts about anything I've heard?
  • How do I feel about my doctor and my interaction with him?
  • What have I got to lose by seeking a second opinion?

When should I get a second opinion before having surgery?

The sooner the better. In fact, you could ask the doctor who says you need surgery for a recommendation for a second opinion before you even leave the office. You certainly don't want to wait until the operation is about to be done. Give yourself as much time as possible to collect the necessary information to make an informed choice. On the other hand, dragging out the process of getting additional opinions might be a way to postpone surgery you're not exactly looking forward to—so be honest with yourself.

How should I ask a doctor for a second opinion?

Be as direct and unemotional as possible. Tell the second doctor that you want an appraisal of the diagnosis you've been given and the treatment that's been proposed. Bring the results, including tests, from your original consultation. Then say, "Here is what my doctor told me about my condition. He recommends this surgery. What do you think?" Try not to telegraph your own opinion of what the first doctor suggests to the second doctor. You want his objective response, not a reaction to your own possibly negative emotions.

I am afraid to ask for a second opinion. Am I not insulting my doctor if I request a second opinion?

Not at all. It is standard medical practice to get another opinion. Doctors do it all the time as part of their own process of diagnosing a problem. You should not feel any hesitation or guilt about stating that you want a second opinion. In fact, many physicians will give their patients the names of other specialists and surgeons to talk to without even being asked.

What happens after I get a second opinion?

What happens after you have two opinions depends on whether the advice is the same or not. If there is disagreement, try to understand the reasons for the difference of opinion. Specifically go through the arguments for and against each approach. Evaluate the pros and cons, follow up with your doctors, and discuss the matter with a friend or relative who is a reliable sounding board. Consider the options and the credentials of each physician. Be aware that it is a common phenomenon that the second opinion has a tendency to sound smarter than the first, when in reality it may or may not be better. In the end, you need to go with your gut. Which doctor do you trust, which approach makes sense to you? If those answers point you in a direction, it probably is the right one for you.

When would I need to get a third opinion?

After having two opinions, there is usually a lot of information to consider. But if you feel you still don't enough information to make an informed decision, then get a third opinion. Go back to the basics of your medical condition and honestly address your concerns to a third physician. You can also ask the doctors with whom you've consulted to talk to each other, with you present as well. Having an open, frank discussion of different opinions may help you make your ultimate decision.

Is it better to go outside my doctor's medical center for my second opinion?

An independent appraisal means a different doctor, but does not necessarily require a different institution. There is no good answer to this question. A doctor from the same hospital should give an honest, objective opinion even if it challenges the opinion of a colleague, but if you are not happy going that route, then ask your doctor for names at a different hospital. For in-depth information about how to request and make the most of your second opinion consultation, please see the resource sheets provided in our Patient Resources section.