Sometimes you don’t feel happy with a medical diagnosis or the advice you’ve been given by your GP and would like to hear the views of another medical expert. Many people feel unsure about their rights with regard to this and are unclear about the procedure, but there is plenty of good information available from NHS Choices and others about the routes to getting a second opinion.
Do you really need a second opinion?
One of the first steps to take is to consider whether you really need to see another doctor. As the NHS suggests, it’s advisable to ask your GP to go over the diagnosis again and explain anything you don’t understand. In cases where you don’t feel the diagnosis is correct, or you’d like to consider an alternative course of treatment, talk to your current GP or consultant first and see if you can come to an agreement before seeking another opinion.
Pros and cons of a second opinion
It’s a good idea to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of getting a second opinion before asking for one. Let’s look at the advantages first:
- If the second opinion matches the first you will feel more confident about the diagnosis and treatment.
- You might find that the second doctor is easier to talk to and that also improves confidence.
- You might be offered a newer treatment that the first doctor isn’t aware of or a wider selection of treatment options. And then there are the potential disadvantages:
- Waiting to get a second opinion may delay your treatment. In some cases this can be crucial.
- You might be disappointed and disheartened if the second doctor gives you the same diagnosis as the first.
- If you are offered alternative courses of treatment, it may be difficult and stressful making a choice.
- The doctor asked to give a second opinion may not be based at a hospital near you, and if you choose their prescribed treatment you may have to travel to receive it.
How to get a second opinion
Getting a second opinion is relatively simple. To start with, if you are registered at a practice with several GPs, you can ask for an appointment with one of the other doctors. If this is not possible, the NHS suggests you consider re-registering at another practice.
Getting a second opinion from a specialist consultant is somewhat similar. The NHS suggests you talk to your consultant or the head of the hospital unit about your concerns.
However, the way the NHS is structured means that you will probably have to go back to your GP and ask them to refer you to another consultant. If your GP agrees to refer you, they will inform the new consultant that you’re seeking a second opinion. Unfortunately your GP is not legally obliged to refer you, so if you have any difficulties obtaining a referral finding a new GP is probably the best way forward.
Finally, family members, or a carer, can also request a second opinion on a patient’s behalf providing the patient has given their consent. They will need to be armed with all the relevant information, but this is a beneficial solution in cases where the person is unable for whatever reason to fully comprehend the diagnosis and give consent to the treatment.