November 23, 2020
Making medical decisions, especially when it comes to surgery, can be stressful. If you have been told you need surgery to resolve a painful orthopedic condition or to treat an injury from a traumatic incident, navigating the timing and type of treatment that is best for you can be difficult. Even if your initial treatment recommendation seems clear-cut, a second opinion can be extremely helpful in making this process easier and put you at ease.
Keep in mind that some doctors are more conservative while others tend to be more aggressive. Therefore, their findings and recommendations can vary dramatically. You should be very comfortable with your physician and a specific treatment plan before scheduling any procedure.
Fortunately, many Americans are getting second opinions which are helping in the decision-making process. A 2017 study of 286 patients conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that an estimated 88% of patients looking for a second opinion will leave the office with a new or refined diagnosis. A full 21% will leave the second doctor’s office with a “distinctly different” diagnosis.
“Sometimes a second set of eyes will pick up a problem not recognized by the original surgeon,” explains Dr. Brett Levine, joint replacement surgeon. “Sometimes the original surgeon is too ‘close’ to the patient. It’s like one of those pictures that people can stare and see the picture and others just see repeating objects. Sometimes it just clicks when you get that second opinion.”
Keep these things in mind when considering a surgical second opinion
You Are in Charge of Your Healthcare Decisions
You are in control of your medical destiny. While most of us prefer to select physicians within our insurance plan, typically, you are not obligated to be treated by one doctor over another. Attend your first and second opinion visits with confidence and remember that you are in the driver’s seat!
Experts agree that when choosing an orthopedic physician, what’s most important is that he or she has performed many of the procedures you are considering and that you feel very comfortable asking him or her questions. “The most important reason for a second opinion is to put the patient at ease,” explains Dr. Kern Singh, a minimally invasive spine surgeon. In his practice, most patients seek a second opinion to confirm a prior recommendation or learn about a new approach. In most second opinion visits, he explains the differences between traditional spinal surgery and the minimally invasive techniques he employs. “There is no downside to getting a second opinion,” he says. “It comes down to the patient’s comfort level with the treating physician.”
Your Doctor Won’t Be Mad
It can feel awkward to discuss, but doctors generally welcome having their patients seek second opinions. If you have a doctor who is put off by your mention of a second opinion, he or she is probably not the right doctor for you. Don’t worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings; at the end of the day, you want to be sure that you find the right team for you and that you are comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment plan you are being offered.
Do Your Research
Friends and relatives can be a great resource when looking for second opinion recommendations, especially if they have had the same condition or surgery you are considering. Another great resource is social media if you are comfortable ‘putting out there’ that you are looking for a good doctor. Of course, the best research can be done online by googling keywords, such as ‘best knee replacement surgeon in Chicago’ or ‘best orthopedic care in Illinois.’ Carefully read each physician’s bio page on the practice website and look for unbiased medical ratings such as Healthgrades.
For Howard Mickley, a recent knee replacement patient of Dr. Vasili Karas, he thoroughly researched surgeons who performed partial knee replacements before making his second and third opinion appointments. “I’m an engineer by training and I like three data points,” he explains. “In the end, I liked that Dr. Karas used a robotic technique and assured me I would be happy with a partial knee replacement performed in that way.”
Come Prepared for the Second Opinion Visit
Like a good Boy Scout, always be prepared! Contact the office of your second opinion doctor to be sure you know what medical records you should bring with you, including any images from your visit with your first doctor. You can also ask to have your medical records forwarded to his or her office – and ask for a second set for yourself that you can bring. Bring a list of questions to allow for a more focused appointment and to make sure that you leave the appointment with a clearer understanding of the second opinion.
“I welcome patients who have been told they need a knee or hip replacement but are curious about the different approaches,” says Dr. Scott Sporer, joint replacement surgeon. “Especially during COVID, it’s important that patients know that they don’t have to undergo surgery in a hospital but can do it in an outpatient setting.”
During COVID this may be difficult, but if possible, it is a good idea to bring a family member or friend with you to the appointment to help you take notes and provide a second set of ears. And remember, your doctor may be the smartest, most compassionate, thoughtful person in the world, or a leading specialist or someone you’ve trusted for years. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from getting a second opinion.