Definition and Overview

A second opinion is a medical procedure that many patients undergo to either confirm or disprove an initial diagnosis. After an initial consultation and diagnosis with a doctor, a patient has the right to seek and undergo the same evaluation process with another doctor (or surgeon) to determine if the first diagnosis is accurate and that the prescribed treatment plan is the most effective and efficient. Aside from a confirmation process, a second opinion can be sought if the patient is not satisfied with the initial diagnosis and treatment plan, and wish to explore other treatment approaches and another opinion.

This process can be considered as a standard practice, especially for the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening or terminal illnesses. It can also be sought if the doctor is prescribing a surgical procedure that might come with serious risks, or if the patient is not comfortable with the procedure. Of course, a second opinion on a surgical procedure is only recommended if the procedure is deemed as a non-emergency. Most doctors are not offended by the patient’s wish to seek a second opinion, and there is a growing industry of healthcare professionals offering patients valuable second opinion.

Many medical literature define a second opinion as an “independent professional review and assessment” performed to “confirm, add to, or revise the diagnoses and proposed treatment” of another healthcare professional. While doctors, in general, try to practice their profession in the most objective and honest way possible, they also have different perspectives on how certain medical and health issues can be resolved or managed. Some doctors might prefer to recommend surgery and other invasive methods of treatment, while others might prefer to recommend a course of drug treatment. Some might also recommend monitoring the condition instead of taking hasty action, while some might think that acting quickly to treat the patient can save a life. Medicine is a science, but there are plenty of gray areas and possibilities for a misinformed opinion.

Second opinions are highly recommended for surgical procedures, especially since opening up a certain part of the body can entail many complications and risks. The patient must have access not only to information about his or her condition, but also to alternative opinions that should be considered in the case of a high-risk procedure. A second opinion is an integral part of the decision-making process for one’s health care and treatment.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

All patients are entitled to a second opinion before they commit to a certain treatment plan or decide to follow the prescription for a surgical treatment. Again, most doctors do not consider the patient’s need for a second opinion as an insult to their skills and knowledge. They recognize that there might be some other medical professionals who can offer an alternative for their patient; an alternative diagnosis or treatment using a method they may not be familiar with. Patients who are proactive about their own health should always seek a second opinion.

In most cases, the expected result of a second opinion is a confirmation or revision of the initial diagnosis, which might include a different treatment plan. The true end result of the process is the patient’s final decision.

How Is the Procedure Performed?

The second opinion, again, is more of a process than a procedure. It involves several steps. First, after receiving the diagnosis and proposed treatment plan of the first medical professional, the patient should state that he or she would seek a second opinion before committing.

The patient might be required to undergo the same imaging or diagnostic procedures, such as x-rays, biopsies, or endoscopic procedures from another healthcare professional. The second doctor can also order different imaging or diagnostic procedures before giving the diagnosis.

Interviewing the first and second doctors is also important for the second opinion process. Here are some questions that can help the patient make a well-informed decision:

  • How accurate is the diagnosis? Are the symptoms of my condition similar to other illnesses?
  • What can be done other than surgery?
  • What are the pros and cons of the treatment options that you have given me?
  • How will my life change if I undergo surgery? Will my symptoms improve if I opt for the non-surgical treatment?
  • What is the success rate of the proposed surgical procedure? What about the other treatment options?
  • How will the surgery be performed? What do I need to do to prepare for it?
  • What kind of relief will surgery offer me? Will it completely cure the condition? Or will it provide a long- or short-term solution to my symptoms?
  • What kind of anaesthesia will the surgery require? What are the risks?
  • How soon can I undergo the surgery, if I choose it?
  • How long will I need to recover or stay in the hospital after the operation?
  • Will I experience a lot of pain after the procedure? How can the pain be addressed?
  • How much will the surgery be? How much for the other options?

Possible Risks and Complications

Choosing competent physicians, as well as carefully assessing the options presented, should minimize the possible complications and risks for the patient. Again, this is a decision-making process, and the patient has the freedom to choose what option is most beneficial to his or her health.


  • “Getting a second opinion before surgery.”
  • Office on Women’s Health: “How to get a second opinion.”
  • Davidov, T. Surgery, December 2010.
  • Matasar, M.J. Annals of Oncology, January 2012.
  • American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, 4th edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
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