You just left the hospital. What you thought was a sprained ankle turns out to be a tear of your achilles tendon. Your doctors say you will be on crutches for the next 12 weeks. Something in your gut tells you the diagnosis may not be correct. Should you consult another doctor?
If you’ve been in a similar situation, you may wonder when it’s appropriate to seek a second medical opinion. There are 5 instances when we recommend to do so. But before we describe these circumstances, what exactly defines a second medical opinion?
What is a second medical opinion?
Simply put, a second medical opinion is when you consult two doctors over one specific illness or set of symptoms. However, second medical opinions are generally sought in two different ways. The first of the two scenarios may be a bit surprising.
If your general doctor refers you to a specialist, then you are in fact seeking a second medical opinion from that specialist. For example, say you have an ear infection and your general doctor can treat the surface symptoms, but can’t determine the underlying cause. He may refer you to an Otolaryngologist. While most people don’t think of this as a second medical opinion, it qualifies as one because you’re consulting two doctors for one set of symptoms.
The second scenario where people seek two medical opinions is when a patient questions their current doctor’s diagnosis. In this instance, the patient decides to take measures into their own hands and sees another doctor (without a referral) for a second opinion.
When to seek a second medical opinion?
If you feel uncertain about a diagnosis, your intuition is probably telling you to consult another doctor. To help confirm your decision, we recommend considering a second opinion if you notice one of the following five signals.
1. When the diagnosis is ambiguous
If you’ve undergone a half dozen tests with no definitive results, a new doctor may be able to offer a fresh perspective and insights. If you’re fortunate, that new doctor may have even successfully cured the same illness in another patient, or seen your injury before. Does this mean you should always seek a second medical opinion when a diagnosis is uncertain? Not exactly. This is where the next determining factor comes in.
2. The seriousness of diagnosis
This is perhaps the single biggest reason to seek a second medical opinion. If you’re diagnosed with a serious condition, we highly recommend consulting another doctor. However, what qualifies as serious? Diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or celiac disease are serious enough to warrant a second opinion. Also, if your doctor recommends surgery, it’s worth consulting with another medical professional.
3. When you’re recommended a controversial treatment
A serious diagnosis is not the only time “seriousness” should be considered when deciding to seek a second medical opinion. If your doctor recommends a controversial or risky treatment, such as an experimental therapy or medication that could cause unwanted side effects, it’s also worth consulting another medical professional.
4. Your current treatment is ineffective
Have you been seeing an allergist for years and noticed little improvement? Has six months of treatment for chronic headaches failed to cure your migraines? In situations where you don’t see improvements to your health over an extended period, it may be a sign to consider seeing a specialist, or getting an outside opinion from another doctor. They may be able to provide alternative, more effective treatment.
5. When you lack confidence in your doctor
It’s easy to forget that doctors are normal people like you and me. Just like normal people, sometimes a doctor does a poor job or isn’t experienced in curing your ailment. Other times their diagnosis may contradict information you’ve heard elsewhere.
When you recognise any of the above signs, we recommend seriously considering a second medical opinion. But this still leaves one looming problem...how do you go about getting one? And what if your primary doctor finds out? Will it damage your relationship? Our next article on "how to consult another doctor" aims to ensure the process is as smooth as possible and provides you advice on how to seek one.
Luma offers comprehensive health insurance solutions that can offer advice on getting a second medical opinion. If you need to find out more about health insurance, check out our blog on health insurance in Thailand.