When you go to the doctor, you want to believe he or she knows what is best for you—100% of the time. After all, your doctor is the one with the years of schooling and the medical degree. But that doesn’t mean he or she has the final say in your healthcare decisions. While your doctor is a crucial source of information, no one person is ever the only source.
It used to be that your doctor’s word was the final word. Today, as more people advocate for their health, they are asking more questions, gathering more information and getting involved in the decision-making process. Sometimes that means getting a second opinion.
The truth is, there is rarely only one answer to any given health problem—particularly when it comes to back problems and spinal injuries. When you’re in pain, you want to experience relief as soon as possible. As a spinal surgeon who’s been treating patients for more than 25 years, I understand this perhaps more than most. But a word of caution: do your homework, ask around and don’t take every medical opinion at face value.
What you need to know about getting a second opinion:
Let’s start with the basics: What is a second opinion? In the simplest terms, it’s seeking advice from another practitioner to confirm a diagnosis or treatment plan, gather more information or hear different viewpoints.
A second opinion doesn’t mean you don’t trust your practitioner; it means you want to educate yourself about your condition and understand all available treatment options, so that you can make the best decision. Granted, second opinions aren’t generally warranted in the vast majority of cases. But
there are times when it may be the best course of action—for example, if:
- You have a condition that radically affects your quality of life
- Your diagnosis is unclear
- Your symptoms persist despite treatment
- You’ve been diagnosed with a rare disease or disorder
- The treatment recommendation is risky or highly invasive
- You feel uncertain or hesitant – or you have a gut feeling that something is off
No, your doctor won’t take offense!
While some may worry that getting a second opinion is bad etiquette or will offend their doctor, I assure you: neither is true. We’re talking about your body and your life. The decision is yours—and your practitioner understands that. Some doctors may even welcome an outside consult to review the initial diagnoses and treatment options. Remember, your doctor’s primary goal isn’t to “be right;” it’s to offer the most accurate diagnosis with a treatment approach that will result in the best possible outcome for you.
You’ve decided to get a second opinion. Now what?
A good place to start is to ask someone at a comparable skill level for recommendations, like your general practitioner or one of your other healthcare providers. You might consider checking in with friends and family for recommendations, or even reaching out to an organization that specializes in your condition, such as an association, foundation or surgery center. If you’re wondering whether you should tell your doctor about your plans to seek a second opinion, the answer is yes. If for no other reason, you’ll need to request a copy of your medical records for your consult.
Don’t be afraid to seek input and guidance from other experts in the field; that’s what they are there for. The choices you make about your health are yours to make—no one else’s. The more information you get, the better prepared you’ll be to make the decisions that are right for you—which will ultimately give you peace of mind as you proceed with treatment.
At Englewood Spine Associates, our goal is to help you get back to living with less pain. We’ll discuss all treatment options, with the goal of taking the most conservative, least invasive approach possible. We also respect your right to a second opinion, and we will support you on your journey to a pain-free life, whatever form that takes.