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Second Opinions 101

Sources For A Second Medical Opinion

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You can get a second opinion from any of the following sources:

  • A doctor who is board certified in the speciality which covers you health condition or proposed treatment
  • A team of doctors from different specialities (A "multi-disciplinary" second opinion).
  • First-class medical institutions which have both individual doctors and/or teams of multi-disciplinary teams..
  • Medical schools.

You can ger a referral to a specialist to provide a second opinion from any of the following sources:

Primary Care Physician

Ask your doctor for the names of board certified specialists experienced with your diagnosis and treatment. Ask why he recommends a particular doctor, and if he would refer one of his own family members to the individual.

Health Professionals

Ask additional doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals for the names of doctors who specialize in your condition or treatment. They can often provide valuable "inside" information. They may also be able to tell you about doctors to avoid.

Hospitals

If there is a prestigious or large teaching hospital in your region call their doctor referral service. They will only provide a list of doctors who are affiliated with their hospital, but these types of facilities tend to attract the "cream of the crop." Look for the most prestigious doctor there.

If there isn't such a prestigious or large teaching hospital in your region contact the best such hospitals in the country. Look for the most prestigious doctor.

Medical School

If there is a medical school in your area: Explain the type of doctor that you are looking for and ask for recommendations. Some instructors actually maintain their own medical practices and tend to be informed on the latest recommendations, procedures and treatments.

If there is no medical school in your area: Find out which medical school is the best for your condition and call there. Ask for the names of their most prestigious doctors in your field.

Disease Specific Non-profit Organizations/Support Groups

Both may be able to provide invaluable information because they come to the table with an insight to your diagnosis and medical needs.

Family and Friends

Ask family and friends for the names of doctors with whom they have had a successful relationship, particularly if they were diagnosed or treated for the same condition.

The Internet

There has never been such an abundance of easily accessible information about doctors as can be found on the internet. Unfortunately there is no one stop shopping. The sites described below can help you compare the qualifications of doctors for which you already have names, or help you locate doctors who meet your criteria. All services are free of charge except where noted. (It is advisable to use this information as a tool rather than a decision maker. If a doctor seems to fit your needs, ask him or her why s/he is rated a certain way.)

American Medical Association: "Physician Select" www.ama-assn.org/aps/amahg.htm offsite link Provides information on every licensed physician (more than 650,000) in the United States and its possessions. The site also contains "Group Select" which provides information on more than 19,000 group practices.

Health Grades: "Physician Report Cards" www.healthgrades.com offsite link All doctors listed have been in practice for at least two years, are board-certified in their specialty, and have had no Medicare or state medical board sanctions within the past three years.

Web MD: "Find A Doctor" http://doctor.webmd.com/physician_finder/home.aspx?sponsor=core offsite link: Provides information on more than 500,000 doctors. This site also contains provider directories (health insurance affiliation) for more than 300 managed health care plans.

American Board of Medical Specialties: "Certified Doc" www.abms.org offsite link This site allows you to verify that a doctor is board certified in his or her specialty.

  • Historically, second opinions were only available locally or for people who were willing to travel. Thanks to modern technology, second opinions are available from a distant expert or expert center without traveling. In addition to individual specialists, medical institutions and companies of doctors also provide second opinions. You can e mail or overnight medical records, copies of pathology reports, x-rays and other diagnostic tests, as well as a report from your doctor about his or her physical exam.  The doctor providing the second opinion can rely on the physical exam your doctor did or possibly conduct one via video. NOTE: Check your health insurance policy to find out if it will cover a second opinion from a doctor who does not see you in person. Many require an in-person visit before providing coverage.

Once you decide on a treatment, it can be administered by your local doctor if you prefer. 

With respect to cancer: It is preferable to get the opinion from a doctor who is associated with an institution which is certified as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) or from an educational institution. You can locate an NCI center by clicking here offsite link. If you don't choose a doctor at one of these institutions, it is helpful if the doctor at least works with a team of specialists who will all look at your case. Team members from different specialties add diffrent points of view. You are likely to find such a team at a large medical center, especially one affiliated with a medical school.  For a list of institutions that  provide a second opinion or a multi-disciplinary second opinion see The R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation web site at:www.blochcancer.org/articles/xtrnew.asp offsite link  


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