I, CAREGIVER: A second or third opinion

IT’S very natural for us to shop around for the best deals when we want to purchase something. However, when it comes to medical diagnosis and treatments, we seem to hesitate to go for that second or third opinion.

Perhaps we’re just afraid to hear more bad news. Dealing with the first is bad enough. But often than not, we’re afraid of offending our doctor whom we’ve been seeing, and trusting, for years. I’ve been told that many doctors don’t take it personally when you ask to seek a second opinion. Some even encourage it.

We all know that doctors are very busy people who see many patients daily. According to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors spend an average of 20 minutes per patient. I have personally spent less time with some doctors after hours of waiting.

Furthermore another published study found that “a patient couldn’t speak for more than 12 seconds without being interrupted either by their doctor or another staff member”. An accurate diagnosis depends on you being able to communicate your health history, symptoms and concerns. When your doctor doesn’t take time to hear these things, he or she may miss out on some crucial information.

Being able to communicate with your doctor and work with treatments is a very important factor, especially when you’ve been injured or have been told of a life-changing diagnosis such as cancer, or end stage organ failure.

We’ve heard stories of misdiagnosis, and wrong treatments and medications, and that it happens even amongst the best of them. While you can’t always believe all the stories, it’s always good to be careful. It is after all, your life, or your loved one’s.

Taking one doctor’s opinion and diagnosis isn’t a bad thing. But if it calls for a treatment or surgery that you’re not comfortable with, it’s always good to get a second opinion, sometimes even a third or fourth. You also need to be very careful about “shopping around” that could delay treatment that should be started as soon as possible. If you need emergency treatment, don’t waste time checking out your options. It could cost you your life.

Importance of a Second Opinion

Seeking second opinions usually happens under several circumstances, like when you’ve lost confidence in your doctor, or when you feel that your concerns and worries are not being addressed adequately. If you’re not comfortable with discussing your condition frankly and openly with the doctor who’s overseeing your treatment, you might want to find someone you can.

Some diagnoses are so overwhelming that it numbs you. You can’t think clearly and need time to digest it. If your doctor recommends a serious, non-emergency or elective surgery, you’ll have time to seek a second opinion. Some traditionally invasive operations now have minimally invasive alternatives like laparoscopic (key-hole) surgery. You’d need time to educate yourself on your condition and talk with another doctor about it. Different surgeons may differ in their opinions about the type of surgery you need. After that, you may even need counselling prior to surgery to allay your fears and learn to deal with it.

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, it could be helpful and even critically important that you get a second opinion before deciding on treatments. For instance, if you’ve seen an oncologist who diagnosed you with breast cancer, it may be wise to get a second opinion from a breast cancer specialist. Such specialists have the expertise that comes from seeing more of such cases and they’re up to date with the latest research.

The same goes for people with other illness. For example, not all knee pains are the same. You may have seen an orthopaedic surgeon for it, but you may want to see a knee specialist who can give you a wide range of options from the different types of injuries and diseases that caused the pain.

Sometimes we also look for people who’ve been through it. You’d want to know how they fared and if they’re happy with the outcome of certain treatments or surgery. Remember, treatments that worked for one person may not always produce the same result for another. So while you’re listening to others who aren’t doctors but are sharing with you their stories, bear in mind that it’s still best to see qualified people in the field.

Sometimes you need to seek a second opinion because your health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of treatment recommended. Conversely, some insurance plans require a second opinion before approving a certain treatment.

Whatever your illness or diagnosis, you and the loved one in your care are always entitled to a second opinion. Second opinions should not be seen as a threat but an important part of the healthcare process. It gives you another perspective on options that helps you decide on your next course of action.

This article was originally published in New Straits Times on 13th January 2018.