Ask a PT: When to Get a Second Opinion

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This is a question patients ask me so often, I really don’t bat an eyelash at the query. Whether it’s a surgical consult, or a different specialist for which a direction of treatment is at a critical impasse, you the patient should feel ultimate security in both the treatment (surgery or not) and the provider providing or supervising that treatment. If you are looking around for other providers to see and/or you are losing sleep at night doing Google searches on alternative treatments, this could be a very good sign that you are not settled into the treatment and/or provider path you are on. This is okay, it’s good in fact. Pay attention to and recognize that gut feeling that all is not right. There is usually no rush to make a decision. Here are some signs to look for:

  • The specialist and/or surgeon never saw you and evaluated you personally.
  • The planned treatment/surgery is not well recognized in the research literature.
  • Your provider/surgeon rarely performs the procedure (less than 10x/year is rare) and/or its considered experimental.
  • Your provider/surgeon was rushed and did not answer all of your questions.
  • Your provider/surgeon is planning to hand off your care to someone else immediately after surgery, even if complications arise from their procedure.
  • The planned treatment/surgery is very drastic/extensive compared to other possible approaches.
  • The planned treatment/surgery is very conservative compared to other possible approaches.
  • The provider/surgeon recommends surgery when you haven’t tried all of the available conservative options such as physical therapy.
  • The provider/surgeon’s staff blows off your phone calls and messages.
  • The provider/surgeon fails to assist you with post-procedure complications and/or side effects.
  • You simply don’t trust your provider/surgeon (even if you’re not sure why).
  • Your provider/surgeon seems non-committal to helping you, or is reluctant to help.

Many patients worry if they need a referral, will their insurance pay for a second opinion, and what will the original provider/surgeon think if they know they sought another opinion? Most of these issues are no big deal. You can contact your insurance company if you have questions or concerns, and many times a specific referral is not required. If your current provider/surgeon is offended should he or she find out about your second opinion consultation, this is an excellent sign that you needed it! Any competent physician should feel secure in their treatment plan and feel that another opinion will simply provide additional support to the current plan from another unbiased medical authority. Any provider who is offended clearly puts their ego ahead of their patient’s comfort with the current treatment plan- do not trust this provider! At the end of the day, no one cares about your health more than you do. Take the time to feel good about everything related to your case- there will be plenty of other things to think about (logistics, time off work, childcare, care for you, assistive devices, recovery time); worrying about whether or not you are doing the right thing with the right healthcare provider should not be one of them!