Clients of Tree of Life Health Advocates sometimes tell me that they don’t feel the need to obtain a second opinion, or don’t fully realize why they should seek one.

Yet, whether complex surgery or watchful waiting is the recommended course of action, obtaining second opinions is almost always in my clients’ best interests. In fact, the importance of second (and third and fourth opinions, if circumstances warrant them) is an issue on which there is virtual unanimity in the medical community.

Here are four reasons we feel so strongly about them

  1. Cancer diagnoses are not always clear cut. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that an element of subjectivity is often involved in radiologists’ and pathologists’ interpretations of images and biopsies. A second opinion will typically shed light on ambiguous findings and inspire a dialogue among clinicians about the possible need for further diagnostic procedures and treatment options. The best clinicians recognize this subjective element and the need for dialogue with their colleagues.
  2. Patients feel more confident in consenting to treatment when they know that two or three clinicians have confirmed their diagnosis. Countless medical journals and articles suggest that patients who enter treatment with confidence may have better outcomes.
  3. Even when a diagnosis is clear cut, a second opinion provides value to the patient and their loved ones. A second opinion can independently confirm the diagnosis, evaluate and possibly modify the treatment plan, identify promising clinical trials or investigational therapies that might be appropriate, and provide additional resources/support services for patients and their families.
  4. Multidisciplinary second opinions, such as those offered by The Second Opinion in San Francisco , provide an invaluable perspective. This organization convenes panels of specialists in different medical fields to discuss a given patient’s case. Best of all, this service is provided free of charge to patients.

Patient Reluctance vs. Medical Advancements

Patients are sometimes reluctant to seek second (or third or fourth) opinions because they trust their physician and/or fear their physician will take offense—or, worse yet—abandon them. But no doctor worth her or his salt will take offense. Indeed, if your physician discourages you from doing so, we suggest you consider firing her or him. The advancement of medicine and, most importantly, the advancement of patient-centered care, depend on an ongoing dialogue among physicians. A doctor who is unwilling to have her work scrutinized by a peer may not be trustworthy or competent.

Typically, insurance plans do cover second-opinion consultations. For example, Kaiser-Permanente, the largest nonprofit health plan in the United States and the largest insurance provider in California, will pay for in-network second opinions because they are the standard of care.

Finally, please remember that if you have a healthcare challenge, I want to be your advocate. To learn more about how I can help, visit my Services page.

I’m here for you.