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What's Up Magazine

Making the Right Choice

Dec 11, 2013 12:29PM ● By Cate Reynolds
WHEN, AND HOW, TO SEEK A SECOND OPINION

You find yourself in the position many of us dread: facing a serious health diagnosis. What do you do now? Often, the treatment choice is clear-cut. However, in some cases, it isn’t that easy. That’s when patients, and their caregivers, feel the need to look for confirmation.

Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Letter stated in 2011 that, “seeking a second opinion before starting treatment is recommended. Second opinions give patients (and their families) more information to weigh their medical options.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has published a pamphlet endorsing and explaining the second opinion process. “Getting a second opinion,” it states, “can help you make a more informed decision about your care.”

But what about the additional cost?

Assuming it is medically necessary, most insurance plans will pay for at least a part of the cost, while Medicare will pay 80 percent of the cost. As a matter of fact, if the second opinion doesn’t agree with the first, Medicare will pay 80 percent of the cost of a third opinion.

WHERE TO BEGIN

Start by telling your initial physician that you would like to obtain a second opinion. Once that potentially awkward part of the process is behind you, it gets easier. In all likelihood, he/she will be supportive and may even suggest a colleague. You may, however, want to find a more independent source.

Determine the area of specialty in which you will need to consult. If you know of someone who has dealt with an illness in that field of study, ask them for recommendations. Your insurer may also provide a list of doctors in that practice area. Comparing all the names collected with the list of doctors compiled every other year by the What’s Up? Top Docs Peer Review may be a wise next step.

Now it’s time to make an appointment. It is a good idea to mention the former patient or physician who referred you to the new doctor—the wheels may need to be greased a bit to get in to see a very busy professional. Make yourself available any day of the week, at any time. And by all means mention that you are seeking a second opinion. You may require less of his/her time than a new patient.

SIMPLIFYING THE COMPLEX

After all the details and recommendations and digesting the significance of your diagnosis, and if time isn’t a major factor, the cost is not prohibitive, and it is a prudent move…why not get a second opinion?

The consultation could even have added benefits. “A second opinion may simply confirm a first diagnosis, or treatment recommendation, but that doesn’t mean it was a waste,” the folks at Harvard tell us. “If the two opinions agree, so much the better, and it’s certainly reassuring. A second opinion can be helpful just because another doctor may explain things in a way that’s more understandable to you.”
—S.H.

What’s Up? does not give medical advice. This material is simply a discussion of current information, trends, and topics. Please seek the advice of a physician before making any changes to your lifestyle or routine.