Generally Speaking: Seeking Second Opinions

Oct 27, 2017 | Lisa Stephens | @lisastephens

Second Opinion ImageLearning you or a loved one has cancer can be an overwhelming experience. Medical terms can seem like a foreign language and navigating the healthcare system can be full of challenges. In addition, cancer can sometimes be complex to diagnose and even manage. Obtaining a second opinion, whether just being initially diagnosed with cancer or whether you’ve been down multiple treatment paths, a second opinion can help you feel more confident about your diagnosis and in moving forward with treatment options.

A recent study conducted at Mayo Clinic found that 88 percent patients who visited Mayo Clinic for a second opinion were found to have their initial diagnosis changed or modified as a result of a second opinion. It’s important to note, this research looked at all patients coming to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, not just cancer patients. Alternatively, in this study, only 12 percent of patients who sought a second opinion at Mayo Clinic left with the same diagnosis as when they walked through the doors of Mayo Clinic. This sounds to me like a pretty good reason to move forward with a second opinion, huh? Yet, if you are still uncertain, other reasons you may want to consider a second opinion can include:

  • Not feeling comfortable or confident with your local medical team, their expertise, or treatment options offered.
  • Diagnosed with a rare or unusual cancer.
  • You are running out of treatment options.
  • Interested in clinical trials.
  • Your local doctor suggests you see someone else.

It’s always helpful to let your local doctor know you are seeking a second opinion. Many times they are happy to make recommendations to another specialist or institution and assist in sending your medical records in coordinating care. But in this day and age the Internet can provide you a lot of helpful information to assist you in seeking out your own options for a second opinion.

When seeking a second opinion, keep these things in mind:

  • If you don't have a provider recommendation — look for NCI-Designated Cancer Centers that deliver high quality care and have research programs that support development of new treatments. NCI-Designated Cancer Centers see the largest volume of cancer patients and can offer a wide-variety of treatment options including clinical trials along with expertise in a wide-variety of cancer types, including rare cancers.
  • Check with your insurance provider to determine coverage — especially if the visit is out of your network. Also, check to see that the new cancer specialist accepts your insurance type. Contact information for your insurance company can be found on the back of your insurance card.
  • When you call to schedule the appointment — find out if they have a specialist with experience treating your cancer type.
  • Plan to bring your medical records — including copies of all scans, exams, previous treatment, blood tests and pathology slides with you to the appointment. In some instances, places want to see records in advance, before granting an appointment.
  • Be clear what you're looking for from the second opinion — do you need confirmation that your current treatment recommendation is correct for you? Or, are you looking for other treatment options? Do you want to know if you’re a surgical candidate? Would you be you interested in clinical trials?
  • As you work with the new cancer specialist — explain why you're seeking a second opinion and communicate your primary needs for the visit.
  • Consider your plan for next steps - do you need to transfer your care to receive the new treatment options? Or, can the treatment plan be communicated to your original doctor for care? If you choose to transfer your care to another doctor, make sure that you communicate this to your original doctor.

Second opinions have value. For some, it’s even an opportunity to establish care at an institution or with a provider you may not need right now, but may need on down the line in your cancer journey. But, bottom line, for most, a second opinion gives you confidence in knowing you are doing the best thing for you at the time you need it.

Have you sought out a second opinion?

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