In the UK, patients are fortunate to have significant choice in their treatment within the NHS. The NHS (National Health Service) provides a high standard of care throughout the country, offering access to experienced and skilled medical practitioners within well-equipped facilities.
However, as a nation we have a reputation of being reticent about discussing our health problems, even with a medical professional, and are reluctant to question a doctor’s decision during a consultation. While there is every reason for a patient to trust their doctor and to treat them with respect, there are also occasions when a patient may want to ask questions about their diagnosis or treatment plan – and should feel comfortable to do so. This includes getting a second medical opinion. Recent research1 found that a little over half (52%) of Britons are aware that they are entitled to ask a GP or health professional (such as a consultant) for a second opinion about their diagnosis or treatment.
Here’s the 5 key points every patient needs to know about seeking a second medical opinion:
1. When do I need a second opinion?
Before you ask for a second opinion, it’s worth asking your GP or consultant to talk you through your diagnosis again and explain anything that you don’t understand. If you have had X-Rays or MRI scans, then you could also ask your doctor to show you the image and point out any irregularities. However, if you still have doubts about your diagnosis, are confronted with a difficult diagnosis or you’re facing an invasive treatment like surgery, seeking a second medical opinion can help you to make informed choices about your health.
2. Will my doctor be offended if I ask for a second opinion?
This is a common misconception in the UK – in fact a recent survey1 found that a fifth of those asked (21%) said that concern about upsetting or angering their doctor would stop them from asking for a second medical opinion. Although, they are fully entitled to ask their GP or health professional for a second or further opinion (an opinion about your health condition from a different doctor). Although you do not have a legal right to a second opinion, a health care professional should not see this as a sign of mistrust and should refer you. Within the medical profession it is actually very common for doctors to ask colleagues for a second medical opinion and radiologists commonly “double” read examinations, as well as treatment decisions being made as part of a wider multi-disciplinary team meeting.
3. Can I ask for an opinion from another consultant?
Yes. If you would like a second opinion after seeing a consultant, you need to go back to your GP and ask them to refer you again. The consultant giving the second opinion will then be sent all your relevant test results or scans (e.g. X-Rays or MRI images). In the NHS, you may have to wait several weeks or months to see a different consultant for a second medical opinion and will usually need to travel to a different hospital. This could delay any treatment you may need, so you need to ask yourself if this could be harmful to your health and recovery.
4. If I’m feeling unwell, can someone else ask for a second medical opinion on my behalf?
A member of your family or a carer can ask on your behalf – but only with your consent. If you’re happy for someone to act on your behalf, it is advisable to give them all the information about your condition and check that they understand it well.
5. Where else can I seek a second medical opinion?
If you have private medical insurance, you could ask your GP or consultant for a referral to seek a second medical opinion. You can also book an appointment with a consultant privately as a “self-pay” patient – however, if you take this option, do double-check the price per consultation and for additional scans.
With the rise of reputable medical services available on the internet, you can now seek a professional second medical opinion online. Services such as Diagnose.me, a specialist online health platform, connect patients seeking a second opinion with some of the world’s leading specialists. They will find, confirm or correct a patient’s diagnosis. Diagnose.me expert radiologists correct the original diagnosis in 26%2 of second opinion cases helping 15%2 of patients to avoid unnecessary treatment.
1. ComRes interviewed 2,010 GB adults online between 3rd and 4th June 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+.
2. Diagnose.me statistics