The Second Opinion Process: What to Expect

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Although the process of getting a second opinion can vary among physician practices and hospitals, you can expect to spend some time arranging to have all of your test results and records sent to the second doctor — or enlisting the help of a family member or friend to do this for you.

Ask your current doctor if his or her practice has a process in place for sending out records and results to other doctors or hospitals. If so, you can work with your doctor and the office staff to have this done, and then call to make sure the second doctor has everything he or she needs. You probably will be asked to sign a release form giving permission for your records and test results to be shared. Also, find out whether the second doctor’s office can serve as a central resource for getting all of the second opinions you may want or need from other specialists, such as radiologists and pathologists. Since most medical offices are pretty busy, you may have to make a few follow-up phone calls to make sure that every doctor receives the information needed to give a second opinion.

If you’re going to a nearby hospital or medical center for a second opinion, you might consider collecting all the necessary results and records yourself and then hand-delivering them to the other office. Although this takes some extra effort on your part, it can save you frustration in the long run.

Some additional tips:

  • Pathology second opinion: In many cases, if you’re seeking a second opinion on your treatment plan, this will automatically include a second opinion on your pathology report. However, it’s possible to seek out a pathology second opinion on your own — just make sure your insurance covers it, if cost is a concern for you.

    Contact the pathology department where you will be getting a second opinion and find out exactly what the pathologist will need. Usually he or she will want the original tissue samples and any slides that were made after your biopsy or surgery. Other necessary materials may include the pathology report, any written medical history pertinent to your diagnosis, and insurance information. However, you’ll need to verify this. Ask if there is any other paperwork that you or your doctor need to fill out, and inquire if you can have it faxed, emailed, or mailed to you. Once you know what is required, arrange to have it sent from the pathology department at your hospital — and ask about the process for having it returned. (The department is likely to have a process in place for transferring slides and samples.)

    Some pathology departments at major medical centers, such as Johns Hopkins and MD Anderson Cancer Center, have posted information about the process for getting a second opinion on their websites. These may help orient you to the process.
  • Treatment second opinion: When you call the second doctor’s office to make the appointment, ask for detailed information about what records you should have sent over or even bring over in advance. Your visit will be more productive if the doctor has time to review them before seeing you. You may need to spend some time collecting copies of all of your medical records, test results, and imaging studies to date, so be sure to leave time for this. If you use an online service, you will still need to gather all copies of your records.

Whatever type of opinion you’re seeking, arrange to have a written report of the second opinion sent to you and your doctor. Make sure that the second doctor plans to communicate with your doctor about his or her findings, beyond just sending the report — especially if there is any new or different information that could impact your care.

Expert Quote

"Keep in mind that if you’re seeing a doctor for a second opinion but that doctor is not going to be the one taking care of you in the long run, sometimes these appointments can be rushed — and when you need insights on critical treatment decisions, you don’t want the doctor to just breeze in and breeze out."

-- Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder, Breastcancer.org

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