Second Opinions: Five Things About This Patient Right

Unsure about seeking a second opinion for spine care? Here’s what you need to know.

Getting a second opinion can feel awkward or even inappropriate, but it’s a smart practice if you have concerns or doubts. Think about it: The spine is among the most complex structures in your body, and there’s often more than one way to treat conditions of the neck and back. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s recommendation, or lack confidence in the proposed treatment—seek a second opinion.

woman smiling with her doctorObtaining a second opinion need not provoke fear of your doctor. It's your right to seek the best treatment recommendations. Photo Source:

Remember, it’s your body. Your doctor has an obligation to make an informed treatment recommendation—and you need to feel confident about that recommendation before proceeding to treatment. Of course, not every case warrants a second opinion. But, it is your right as a patient and helps you to be your own best advocate. If you’re thinking about getting a second opinion, the five points below will help you weigh your options.

#1If you don’t feel confident with your back pain treatment plan, consider seeking a second opinion.

Your doctor should present you with different treatment options, and outline the benefits and risks of each. You have the right to ask about your doctor’s personal experience performing the recommended procedure (eg, number of spinal operations of this type performed annually and the complications resulting from those surgeries). If you’re not sure about the treatment option recommended, consulting a second doctor may help clarify things.

Your original doctor should support your decision to seek a second opinion, but if you feel resistance or hostility, that’s a sign that it may be the time to find a new spine specialist.

#2You can have a great relationship with your doctor and still get a second opinion.

If you are uneasy about a treatment recommendation, getting a second opinion is worth it for the peace of mind.

#3—You’ll need to prep before your second opinion appointment.

The most important thing you need to do before your second opinion appointment is ask your first doctor to send your medical records to the doctor providing the second opinion. Before your appointment, follow-up with the second doctor’s office to make sure they received your medical records. If your medical records aren’t sent, it may mean you’ll need to repeat tests you’ve already undergone.

Also, write down your questions for the second opinion visit so you don’t forget anything during the appointment. You may also want to bring a loved one or a patient advocate (someone you have chosen to act on your behalf and support your health care decisions—your doctor’s office may provide information on how to connect with a patient advocate in your area).

#4Make the most out of your time with your second opinion doctor.

During your second opinion appointment, share the reason(s) you’re seeking a second opinion. Explain your thoughts around your original doctor’s recommended spine treatment, and ask the questions you wrote down in preparation for the appointment.

#5Second opinions aren’t a good idea in emergency situations.

If your treatment isn’t time sensitive or critical—that is, you can decide when and if you’re going to have your spine procedure—second opinions are incredibly beneficial.

But, in emergency situations—such as nerve compression, instability from a vertebral compression fracture, or spinal trauma—seeking a second opinion may do more harm than good. Certain spinal problems (eg, cauda equina syndrome, bowel or bladder dysfunction) require prompt immediate care to preserve your health and safety.

If the recommendations of your first and second spine specialist conflict, you may choose to get a third opinion. Alternatively, you can weigh the pros and cons of the two recommendations and move forward with your preferred approach. Getting a second (or third) opinion takes additional time and effort, but it makes you a more informed patient who moves confidently through the treatment journey. If you’d like to learn more about how to exercise your patient rights, read our articles on informed consent and your rights at the hospital.

Updated on: 01/29/20
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SpineUniverse spoke with Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD, FACS to obtain his advice about preparing for and getting the most from an appointment or consultation with a spine surgeon.
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