Why Getting a Second Opinion Can Save Your Life

Doctor pointing at x-ray; getting a second opinion can save your life

When your health is on the line, it’s perfectly reasonable to get a second opinion. According to many studies, getting a second opinion can often change the diagnosis, course of treatment, or health outcomes. It can even save your life. 

Four studies

A 2015 study from the American Journal of Medicine found that seeking a second opinion can change the course of treatment in 37 percent of patients, and change the diagnosis 15 percent of the time. 

Another study from BMJ Quality and Safety found that approximately 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed every year. Half of those cases had the possibility of serious health consequences. 

A 2017 Mayo Clinic study found that 88 percent of patients seeking a second opinion will leave the office with a “new or refined” diagnosis, and 12 percent will walk away with an entirely different diagnosis. 

Lastly, a 2016 controversial study from Johns Hopkins University argued that medical errors should be ranked as the third leading cause of death in the United States, preceded by cancer and heart disease. The researchers estimate that more than 250,000 Americans die from medical errors annually. 

What you need to know about seeking a second opinion

  1. Will my doctor be offended if I seek a second opinion? No; getting a second opinion is a routine part of medicine. In fact, many doctors consult with their colleagues when puzzled by a diagnosis or symptom. It is not uncommon for patients to refrain from seeking one for this reason, but it should not stop you if your gut is telling you to see someone else for confirmation. If your doctor does not support your decision, it might be time to find a new doctor anyway. 
  2. How can I get a second opinion? You do not need your doctor’s permission to seek a second opinion, but they may be able to refer you to another doctor if you’d like. Don’t be concerned about your old doctor influencing the professional opinion of your new doctor. It is their job to examine evidence objectively and come to their own conclusion. 
  3. Who will pay for it? Most health plans (including Medicare) will cover the costs for getting a second opinion. However, they may not cover duplicate testing, so bring all of your original tests and records to your appointment with your new doctor. Additionally, you should always run this by your health plan as some may require a prior authorization. 

When to seek a second opinion 

You may consider seeking a second opinion if you:

  • Have been treated but symptoms persist
  • Receive a rare, life-threatening, or life-changing diagnosis
  • Are recommended to have treatment that is risky, invasive, or may have life-long consequences
  • Are diagnosed with cancer
  • Have a feeling in your gut that something is off

Remember: doctors are very well-educated, but they’re also human. Older doctors may have more experience treating complex conditions, but younger doctors may be more knowledgeable to newer treatment options. There is nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion, so don’t be afraid to ask. 

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