Getting a Second Medical Opinion

Doctor talking to patient at deskFor your heart’s sake, get a second opinion

When your doctor recommends a medication or procedure, whether for a cardiovascular condition or not, you almost certainly have questions and concerns — or even fears.

All of these reactions are normal. But it doesn’t mean you need to accept everything you just heard at face value. Your next step should be to get a second opinion.

“You should not hesitate to get a second opinion in fear of offending your physician,” says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla., who also volunteers for the American Heart Association.

In fact, he says, most physicians encourage second and even third opinions, especially when it involves a major operation such as heart valve replacement.

Why seek a second opinion?

Perhaps you’re not feeling confident about your doctor’s decisions. Maybe you’re feeling rushed. Other reasons to get a second opinion include:

  • Your insurance company may require it before covering your treatment.
  • You may have options — including not needing the medicine or procedure, or one being less expensive than another.
  • You’re concerned about the risk or how it might affect your lifestyle, family or work.

How do I seek a second opinion?

“Start with your doctor for a recommendation,” says Richard Stein, M.D., a cardiologist and director of the Urban Community Cardiology Program in the New York University School of Medicine. “Or, if you have one from another source, ask your doctor about this person.”

For second or third doctors or specialists, you can also:

  • Ask family or friends who’ve been treated with the same condition.
  • Get a list of approved doctors from your insurance company or your employer’s health plan administrator.
  • Contact your local medical society.
  • Look in the American Medical Directory, the Directory of American Specialists or other professional directories at your local library.

What do I do to seek a second opinion?

Before you visit a second doctor, have your records forwarded to him or her.  Better yet, get a full set and bring them with you.

Also, be sure to come with specific questions. “The more specific your questions, the more focused your meeting, the better the second opinion will be,” says Stein, who is also a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

You should also bring a pad and pen to write down important things, and consider having a significant other to sit and listen (and not talk).

When you’re done, ask the second doctor to send his notes to you and your doctor.

And if the opinions differ …

“Go with the best assessment,” Stein says. “A good rule of thumb is: Does the plan of your doctor or the second doctor make the most sense, involve the least risk, focus on the medical issues that are most important to you?”

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