By Dr. Tim Bartholow
Statistics show that over one third of adults in the US will never seek a second opinion. Almost one tenth of newly diagnosed patients rarely, or never, understand their diagnosis.
Message to patients: it's not OK if you don't understand the plan you and your doctor have created. You and I cannot share decisions if you aren't clear about what is going on and the system hasn't fully explained it to you.
Be proactive. Ask questions. Understand the diagnosis. And be ready to ask for second opinions.
It doesn't mean you have to change doctors - and the best doctors want you to fully understand and won't be offended if you ask for another opinion.
When should you get a 2nd opinion?
Obviously, you're not going to request a second opinion in an emergency situation like acute appendicitis. But let's say the diagnosis is a life threatening illness. Maybe cancer. You may think starting treatment ASAP is your only option.
Instead, know that your job is to be confident and knowledgeable so you can have full faith in your physician. If asking for a second opinion gets you there, that's what you need to do. Some people will even seek a third opinion.
And if you get scared, get more involved in your care. Bring your family or support system with you. Fully understanding the diagnosis and treatment plan is one of the best antidotes I know for the fear you may have about being sick.
Why you should get a 2nd opinion
Let's say your doctor recommends a treatment that clashes with your personal beliefs, like depending on a drug to keep you healthy. Like Anne the librarian.
Anne came to my office for a yearly checkup. Her labs came back showing high blood sugars indicating diabetes. Anne asked to hear about her non-drug options, so we gave her information on diet, exercise and stress management.
Anne's follow up labs were excellent. Her values returned to normal. No pills. No going against her personal beliefs. All Anne's health really needed was some motivation and the right patient information.
I love when healthcare works like this.
One doc doesn't have all the answers
Docs are human. We don't have all the answers.
So if you hear that you need a major surgical or non-surgical procedure, don't assume it's the final answer. You not only have a right to know your treatment options, it's your job to share in the decisions that must be made.
If the second opinion matches the first, then your confidence in your decision making process is bolstered. If the second opinion doesn't match, there's usually a good reason. In short, it never hurts to get a second opinion.
Your best option: being informed
The point is to practice self-care and consumerism. Participate. Weigh all the options. Be your own best advocate. Why? Because the decisions you make about healthcare are some of the most important in your life.
For more information about asking for second opinions, check out the link below:
Look for my next blog about the dangers of using too much healthcare. Until then… ask questions, compare, and take care.