Second Opinions

by Maria McCutchen

Developing a medical problem can be a frightening and unnerving experience for anyone. This can be especially true if it is a chronic, long term problem, and one that is in-depth, or difficult to diagnose. You can spend countless hours researching your symptoms; or those of a loved one. But when you don’t know, or can’t find the answers, who do you turn to for answers? You turn to a doctor. You expect a doctor will know what the problem is, or at least be able to figure it out. You have faith in a doctor to solve the problem.

The truth is that doctors are human and sometimes even they can get stumped. Unfortunately, not all doctors know enough about every medical problem to be able to provide us with the answers we need and want. This is when it may take seeking the advice and opinion of another physician to see if he has an answer for what is happening. Whether your physician sends you for a second opinion, or you seek the opinion of another doctor on your own, sometimes getting a second opinion is not only warranted, but crucial.

In the medical world, getting a second opinion has not always been viewed as the “polite” or “respectful” thing to do as a patient especially when you or your loved one has been seeing the doctor for years and has developed a longstanding relationship with him. A patient may feel as though he’s being rude or disrespectful to see another physician. He may think he is offending his physician. But when it comes to our health or the health of a loved one, there comes a point when you simply cannot worry about that. When it comes to our health, we have to do what is best for us — and not our physician.

What exactly is a second opinion? A second opinion is just that — getting another opinion from another physician. Maybe his opinion will match that of your original physician or maybe it will be a totally different opinion and diagnosis. Whatever the outcome, in order for him to make an informed diagnosis, he will need to examine you or your loved one, as well as review the records from your original physician. Items your new physician will need to examine include:

  • Office visit notes
  • Tests performed
  • Surgery records related to current medical condition
  • Blood work results


He will review the records to determine what has been discovered and what has not yet been determined. He can decide if any work needs to be repeated or if new tests should be ordered.

Having previous records with you will help a second opinion physician determine if he agrees or disagrees with the findings of the first physician. Maybe he agrees with his findings, but maybe he will have a totally different opinion of the diagnosis. He may decide that further testing is warranted, or a “repeat” of a specific test is needed.

Your records are vital information that tell the new doctor what your other physician has already done, what he has discovered, what his thoughts and ideas are, and what he is, (or was) planning on doing next. The second opinion doctor can use all this information to determine his own plan of action, or see if he is in agreement with your original physician and decide no further testing is warranted.

A second opinion can be a sense of relief for you. It can help solidify the results of your original physician, or it can help you to feel a sense of relief, knowing that your second-opinion-physician is taking other courses of action to get to the bottom of things.

A second opinion does not have to be, nor should be viewed as a bad thing – an unethical move, or even rude. It is none of these things. In fact, it is the right and smart thing to do.  This is especially true if you do not feel comfortable with the original physician’s diagnosis. Even so, to have another opinion is always wise — especially when it is a serious condition or a tricky diagnosis.

Doctors are human. They can make mistakes like anyone else and they can get stumped. Sometimes they are not as diligent as they should be. Every now and then, a patient may encounter a physician who is not competent or doesn’t have your best interest at heart. If this is the case, seeking the opinion and advice of another physician is crucial and definitely warranted.

Every now and then, a patient may get a second opinion and still not be satisfied. If this is the case, seek the advice of a third physician. You can see as many physicians as you need to. There is no law that prevents you from seeing as many physicians as needed in order to feel confident with the decision and outcome.

If a physician gets offended by the fact that you want and get a second opinion, take that to heart. That can tell you a lot about the doctor. A doctor should never be offended that you are looking out for yourself by seeking a second opinion in regards to his diagnosis. He should never take offense to you wanting to confirm the diagnosis.

One thing you should think about as you make your way from doctor-to-doctor is: You only have one body, and one life. You want to make sure you are getting the best possible answer and treatment, and by seeking the advice of multiple physicians, you have a greater chance of getting the right answer — the answer you believe, and one that makes you feel comfortable.

Maria McCutchen lives in North Carolina with her two boys. She is a freelance writer and author, publishing articles for the web and the book “It’s all in Your Head.”  She has become an activist for brain cysts; speaking, educating and advocating for those affected by this rare brain disorder.  Follow Maria on  Learn more about Arachnoid Cysts on