that second medical opinion can mean the difference between life and death.
Yet we sometimes hesitate. Find out why -- and what can be done to overcome those fears.
by Tom Philbin
people buy a car, television or major appliance, they shop around for the best deal. Yet,
when some of these people find themselves in a position in which a second medical opinion
is a good idea - when facing complicated or elective surgery, for example, - they balk.
Sometimes it doesnt matter. But sometimes it can lead to the wrong treatment,
complications, even death. Health professionals say there are a variety of reasons why we
fear that second opinion. Some of those reasons follow -- with tips on how to overcome
Offending The Doctor|
A number of
psychological roadblocks get in the way of second medical opinions, but one of the most
common is the fear of offending the doctor--and the deeper implications of that.
Dr. Gerald Melchiode, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and co-author of "Beyond Viagra," says:
"Patients think that in bringing up that they want to get a second opinion
theyre questioning the doctors ability, so in the interest of not offending
him they dont suggest it."
But they go beyond that. They fantasize that the insulted doctor wont take care of
the majority of cases," says Dr. Melchiode, "doctors wont mind patients
getting a second opinion at all. Many will welcome it. But in some cases, if the doctor
lacks self-esteem, he will feel offended." In rare cases, a doctor may not only
resist, but tell the patient not to seek a second opinion. "In either scenario,"
says Edward Balyk, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey, "you'd better get another
Adds Dr. Melchiode, and Edward Balyk concurs, "The best way to reduce anxiety about
suggesting to your doctor that you want a second opinion is to have a conversation with
him. Be honest and open. Tell him you face a serious procedure and need to know
youre doing the right thing, hence another opinion."
people avoid getting a second opinion is fear of the second doctor giving them worse news
than the first. Says Balyk: "You fear that if you go for, say, an ingrown toenail,
hell tell you that the toe must come off." The most important consideration is
that its in your self interest to get another opinion -- and it may not be worse.
Exalted View of the Doctor|
trust, even revere their doctors," says Dr. Quentin Ted Smith, clinical professor of
psychiatry at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, "and imbue them with godlike
qualities. So they trust their doctor is right, and dont ask for a second opinion.
In fact, it doesnt even occur to them that they should." Dr. Smith points out
that in some cultures, such as Africa and India, the physician is even more idealized than
But you should remember that the doctor is a human being--just like you.
May Promote Poor Judgment|
are sick," says Dr. Melchiode, "they feel vulnerable, and they regress, and
become childlike. They transfer all types of good feelings onto the doctor and just let
him take over." That might not be the best thing.
And sometimes, obtaining that second opinion just seems like too much work. Says Dr.
Smith: "People just dont want to go through the process of going to another
doctor, gathering medical records, X-rays, slogging through their medical history, etc.
Its just too much trouble."
Let family members or friends help with advice.
of a second opinion, of course, is to collect information so you can make as informed a
decision as possible on your medical care. Educate yourself on your condition as soon as
you know what it is. The know-how will empower you -- and enable you to ask better
questions of your doctors.
Library. Ask the
reference librarian about your topic. He or she will likely produce more books, pamphlets
and magazine articles than you can lift--no less read!|
Net. The Internet
is loaded with useful health information, but take care that it comes from a reliable
source. Look at sites sponsored by major teaching hospitals or universities. One good one:
the Mayo Clinic.|
People Who Have Been There. It can be both comforting and enlightening to discuss your condition
with someone who has been through it. Exercise caution, however, in Internet chat rooms.
They might also be a source of potentially harmful misinformation.|
Contact The National Institutes of Health. This government agency has links to 18
different institutes. Call the NIH at 301-496-4000, tell them which disease you want to
know about, and they will forward your call to the appropriate institute. That institute
can provide you with literature -- most of it free or inexpensive. Or visit http://www.nih.gov