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The art of seeking a second opinion

Alex E. Proimos

Seeking a second medical opinion can be an awkward process. No one wants hurt feelings but everyone wants what is best for them.

This week on “Take Care,” Erin Singleton, the chief of mission delivery at the Patient Advocate Foundation, addresses the importance of seeking a second medical opinion.

The Patient Advocate Foundation is a national non-profit organization that helps individuals resolve issues related to their medical diagnosis.

Second opinions are commonplace in the medical field. So common in fact that Singleton says most medical providers encourage their patients to get one.

But figuring out when a second opinion is needed can be a different challenge.

“If you have any doubts of your doctor or you don’t have a good working relationship [with them] then that is probably a good indication,” Singleton says.

Other indicators include doctors who are not experts in the field of a diagnosis, rare disease diagnoses, no hope diagnoses, or risky procedures.

“At the end of the day I really think that if someone feels that they have any doubts at all then they should seek a second opinion to ease those decisions.”

That same thought process should be applied to actually asking doctors for a second opinion. It’s all about the patient.

“Most providers want [their patients] to have that reassurance, so they shouldn’t be afraid to ask,” Singleton says. “There are different ways to go about [asking].”

Singleton suggests that the best approach is to just come right out and say it or to turn the tables and ask what they would do if given a similar diagnosis.

“You are going to have to gain access to your medical records one way or another to be able to make that transition [to another doctor]. So it is best if you could speak to your provider, the nurse or someone in that office,” Singleton says.

As for getting a second opinion there are many outlets. Doctors are professionals in their fields meaning they have many contacts and can recommend the right people. But Singleton says be wary.

“Those who practice together are likely to think the same way so seeking someone outside the practice or friendship could give a better, fresh perspective,” Singleton says. “You can call universities, teaching hospitals or medical societies as well.”

Look for someone who understands the particular disease or condition as they are more experienced and have had more engagement in that area.

“They might give better treatment options and really talk through the disease,” Singleton says. “When getting the second opinion it is also important to come with those questions and doubts and bring someone along for help.”

Singleton remains adamant that it is all about the patient. The number one goal, when seeking a second opinion, should be to get the most objective opinion.