Second Opinions from Northwestern Medicine Specialists

Uncertainty about surgery or a major medical procedure can drive the decision to seek a second opinion. It is important to have confidence in the diagnosis, and to get the most-current information about treatment options available to you. A second opinion with a qualified specialist allows you to approach your treatment decisions with the necessary confidence to help you make the best choice for you.

When should you get a second opinion?

For complicated, non-emergency medical situations, you should consider getting a second opinion any time you face:

  • A potentially life-threatening disease
  • An unclear or confusing diagnosis for your condition
  • Any experimental or novel course of treatment
  • Multiple and/or chronic medical conditions
  • Widely variable costs in tests or treatments

Seeking a second opinion is often an important and necessary next step for patients with serious conditions.

Before your appointment

If you are seeking a second opinion, here are some considerations to keep in mind when preparing for your appointment:

  • Contact your healthcare plan about obtaining a second opinion. Most health insurance plans will pay for a second opinion, but it is best to check beforehand. In some cases, if you don't get a second opinion for a procedure, you may have to pay a higher percentage of the cost.
  • Be honest and straightforward with your current physician. Ask for your medical records so you can share them with the specialist providing the second opinion. By law, your physician must give these to you, however, you may have to pay for copies.
  • Consult with a specialist who has at least the same level of expertise as your current healthcare provider.
  • Research your condition and treatment options so that you arrive as well-informed as possible. This will make it easier for you to effectively discuss your healthcare situation.
  • Make sure the specialist has received your medical records, including test results—prior to your appointment—or bring your records with you to your appointment.
  • Sometimes two heads are better than one. Consider bringing a friend or family member to listen, take notes and to also ask questions.

What to ask during your appointment

You have done your research and are meeting with an additional specialist to help ensure that you make the most informed medical decision. You should bring a notepad to your consultation and ask these questions of any other doctors you intend to consult:

  • Could there be a different diagnosis/explanation for my condition?
  • What treatment(s) do you recommend for it?
  • Are there other viable treatments I should consider?
  • Are there any additional test I should have?
  • What happens if I wait or don't receive the treatment(s)?
  • Are there side effects associated with the treatment option(s)?
  • Are there any other risks associated with the treatment option(s)?
  • How long is the recovery period for each treatment option?
  • What are the expected outcomes of each treatment option?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Is it covered by insurance?