Seeing a different doctor for a second opinion
Can I get an opinion from another specialist about my treatment?
A second opinion means seeing another GP or specialist for their view on your diagnosis or treatment. For a second opinion with a specialist, this usually means going to a different hospital. Although you don’t have a legal right to a second opinion, doctors rarely refuse to arrange one for you.
People may want to see another doctor
- To confirm their diagnosis
- To make sure they are having the best treatment
- To support what they’ve already been told about their condition and treatment
- Because they don’t feel that they can talk to their current doctor
The benefits of seeing another doctor may include
- Feeling reassured that doctors agree on your diagnosis and treatment
- Having different treatments to choose from, if the second doctor offers a different treatment
But seeing a different doctor is not always possible, and may sometimes have disadvantages. These include
- A possible delay in starting treatment
- Travelling some distance to another hospital – this could be difficult or even impossible
- Hearing your diagnosis again, which may be distressing
It can take some time to arrange a second opinion. Because you have already seen a doctor or specialist, you won’t be a priority. It is important to talk to your doctor about how long any delay is likely to be, and whether a delay in starting treatment would be harmful.
Some people worry about offending or upsetting their doctor by asking to see someone else. This is unlikely to happen. In any case, doctors themselves often ask their colleagues about cases that are complicated or unusual.
Before you ask for another opinion, think carefully about exactly why you want one. This can avoid wasting time and effort (and possibly money if you see another doctor privately). It may be because
- You haven't fully taken in what the doctor told you
- You are not satisfied with the treatment suggested
- You find it hard to talk to your doctor
If you haven’t taken it all in first time round, it may help to ask your doctor to go over things with you again. Don’t feel embarrassed about not understanding, or needing information repeating. Doctors realise how difficult it is for you to take in complicated medical information, especially if you are feeling shocked and upset.
If you have read up on your condition since you were first diagnosed, this could have raised questions or concerns. You may just need to talk through your treatment options with your specialist again. This will give you the chance to ask any questions that have come up since your first appointment.
Of course you are likely to meet other people with cancer at the hospital, or at a local support group for example. It’s natural to talk to each other about your illness and treatment. And there always seems to be something in the newspaper about cancer. You may hear about another type of treatment and wonder why you are not having it. This might make you feel less confident about the treatment you are going to be having. Do talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you feel like this. There are many different types of cancer and the treatment will vary. Even if you have the same cancer type as someone else, your cancers may be at different stages. And not all treatments are suitable for everybody.
It can be difficult if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor. It is important for you to have confidence in them and feel able to voice any concerns you have. This can help build trust and confidence in your relationship.
If you don't feel like this, try talking to another doctor in the consultant’s team, such as the registrar. Or, if there is a specialist nurse in the team, you may find it helps to talk to them. They may be able to iron out any misunderstandings. If necessary, they may offer to talk to the doctor about your concerns. It can be useful to talk to your doctor and nurse together.
After thinking everything through, if you still want to see another doctor you can ask your specialist or GP to arrange it. They will refer you to another NHS doctor who specialises in treating your condition. Or you can ask for a second opinion from a private doctor, but obviously you will have to pay for that. A relative can also ask for a second opinion, but only with the patient's consent.
Having a second opinion doesn’t mean the second doctor will take over your care. If you decide you want the new doctor to treat you, they have to agree and this has to be formally arranged between the doctors or hospitals.
If you want to see a different GP, and are in a group GP practice, you can ask for an appointment with one of the other doctors. Or you can ask your GP to refer you to different doctor. Some people may consider changing their GP or GP practice. But this is only possible if another local GP practice is able to take you on.
Your current doctor or specialist should send the new doctor any relevant information, such as previous treatments, test results and information about the drugs you are having. This will give them as clear a picture as possible about your case.
If you are having difficulty getting referred for a second opinion, the Patient advice and liaison service (PALS) in your hospital, or local citizen advice service (CAB) may be able to offer advice.
It may help to prepare for a second opinion by
- Thinking about what you want to get out of the appointment
- Making a note of your symptoms and any treatment you've already had
- Writing down questions you want to ask
- Asking someone to go with you for moral support and to help you take in the information the doctor gives you
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