A few weeks ago I was away at a high school baseball tournament with my son, his teammates and their families. Over appetizers at a team dinner, I struck up a conversation with a woman who had recently lost her mother to ovarian cancer. She proceeded to tell me that her mom was one of several family members who had that same diagnosis. Given her family history, the woman told me that she made an appointment with her doctor specifically to ask what, if anything, she and her four sisters could do to be proactive about their own reproductive health.
Much to my surprise, her doctor told her not to worry – he had a “cross that bridge when and if you come to it” attitude. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t refer the concerned woman to a specialist for genetic testing and didn’t even discuss with her preventative surgery as an option (i.e. prophylactic removal of the ovaries or tubes). I told her about cancer family syndromes, diagnosis and treatments and shared with her several resources that she could review to get the most up-to date-knowledge. Although not a formal second opinion, by the time dessert was served I had given her plenty of food for thought.
This experience also gave me something to chew on: how easy it is to take just one person’s words at face value, particularly when that person is considered an expert. While I commend the woman I spoke to at dinner for seeing her doctor BEFORE she developed any health issues, relying on just one medical professional’s take on a serious diagnosis was, in my opinion, a mistake. As a physician myself, I know firsthand that not all doctors have the same expertise or are willing to admit when they don’t know something. Moreover, the context in which a health care professional works may well inform his/her perspective. For example, in this case, the doctor worked for a large HMO where expensive, specialized work like genetic testing may not be a realistic option. As a general practitioner, he may have also been operating on what essentially is misinformation; that genetic testing is only done when there is breast cancer in the family. And there may well have been other factors that played in to his ultimate dismissal of a real, potential health threat as not something to worry about unless/until symptoms are present.
As a doctor who is often consulted for a second opinion, I am always happy to weigh in. I frequently give advice on infertility, miscarriages, menopause and surgical indications. Often these second opinions happen organically, as it did with my son’s teammate’s mother. I’m always eager to share wisdom and insights, as staying up on the latest developments in gynecology and reproductive science is not just my job and responsibility to my patients – it’s also my passion.
Conversely, when I give a patient a difficult diagnosis, I am always open to her getting a second opinion.
A good first step to getting a doctor’s second opinion is simple online research. I say this with a grain of salt; Google can be both friend and foe. Using the computer to research medical issues can be enlightening if you know where to seek accurate information; my recommendation is to check out well-respected websites such as uptodate.com, WebMD.com or National library of medicine, among others. You can also be pretty confident about any highly regarded medical institutions’ websites that regularly publish cutting-edge findings (i.e. Harvard, Mayo Clinic). If the same information repeats itself on a multitude of legitimate, health-oriented sites, it is more likely to be accurate.
Diagnosis and Treatments
As the medical climate becomes more and more specialized, it also may well pay for you to consult several different doctors about your diagnosis and course of treatment. I’m using the word “pay” here on purpose; your insurance company may try to limit your access to specialists and getting that crucial second opinion might entail your paying out of pocket to go out of network. Depending on your situation, making that investment may save you time, money and most importantly of all, your health.
In the end, there is no better advocate for you… than you. Ask questions, don’t be afraid to speak out during an appointment, and always follow-up until you are satisfied you know all you need to ensure proper care. After all, doing your due diligence and seeking out a second opinion isn’t just your right – when it comes to your health or that of your family, it’s also your responsibility.
Together We’ll Find A Way
If you have questions or would like a second opinion, contact us.