By Dr. Bilal Shirazi | 10 Sep 2019

When and Why You May Need A Second Medical Opinion

Unsure about your diagnosis or treatment plan? Thinking about getting a second medical opinion but unsure if it's right for you? Our latest blog looks at what a second medical opinion is, and when and why you might need one.


Whether you are facing a diagnosis of a rare disease, a complex surgery, or an invasive treatment plan, if you are unsure about your diagnosis or treatment then you may want to consider getting a second opinion from another doctor.

Our latest blog looks at what a second medical opinion is, and when and why you might need one. 

What is a second medical opinion?

A second medical opinion is when a doctor, that is not your treating physician, provides an opinion to confirm or question the first doctor's diagnosis and/or treatment plan. They may provide more information about the disease or offer an alternative diagnosis or other treatment options. Often a second medical opinion is given by an expert in their field of medicine, and sometimes by medical professionals from overseas.

When should you consider one?

When you receive a new medical diagnosis it can often be frightening or overwhelming for you and your family. This is particularly the case for a life threatening or complex condition. Sometimes doctors may have differing opinions on whether an invasive of more conservative treatment approach is preferred, and you may be unsure of how to proceed. Below are some of the circumstances where you might want to consider a second medical opinion:

  • For serious medical conditions: A second medical opinion is usually associated with very serious medical conditions, such as cancer. It can certainly be a good idea to seek a second medical opinion in these circumstances, particularly if the prognosis is poor or the treatment plan recommended has high risk factors. 
  • For complex conditions: If your medical condition is highly complex or rare, it has a taken a long time to get your diagnosis, or your diagnosis has changed a number of times, it may also be good to get expert advice.
  • For high risk treatments: You may want to consider a second medical opinion for high risk surgeries or any treatment that could have lifelong consequences. Under these circumstances it can be best to discuss all the options available with more than one physician before you proceed.
  • For invasive joint surgeries: As modern science evolves, approaches to joint surgery have changed dramatically. Invasive surgeries are increasingly being replaced with minimally invasive procedures. Having a second medical opinion could be beneficial, and in certain circumstances you may be able to avoid surgery through lifestyle changes or a more conservative treatment approach.
  • When you've had excessive sessions of Physiotherapy/ Chiropractic/ or Alternative Medicine: It may be time to seek a second medical opinion if your symptoms do not show signs of improvement over a long period of time, despite regular treatment, particularly if you've had excessive sessions of physiotherapy or alternative medicine. This could mean the treatment is only providing temporary relief and not a curative measure.
  • When something doesn't feel right: Patients know their bodies. If your instincts tell you that the proposed treatment is not the right option for you, then a second medical opinion could help give you peace of mind.

Why is it useful?

  • Verify the diagnosis: Firstly a second medical opinion can help confirm that your diagnosis is appropriate. A report by the World Health Organisation estimates that diagnostic errors occur 5% of the time in out-patient settings, while research conducted by the Mayo Clinic in the US suggests that up to a fifth of all serious conditions could be misdiagnosed. While in most cases the diagnosis will be correct, if you have a serious medical condition or it has taken a long time to get your diagnosis, it may be worth getting another opinion.
  • Consider treatment options: Secondly it can help you to decide on the best treatment plan. Medical research and new technologies mean that advancements occur rapidly, so there may be alternative treatment options available that your treating physician is unaware of. Equally if your doctor has recommended an invasive surgery that you are concerned about, a second opinion can help you to weigh up the risks of the treatment plan versus the potential outcome.
  • Provide reassurance: Finally, a second medical opinion can help to provide you with further information about your condition, so you can be a more informed patient. Even if the second medical opinion agrees with your treating physician's recommendation, this can reassure you and your family that you have the right diagnosis and are getting the right treatment. Ultimately a second medical opinion can help give you greater peace of mind.

How does it work?

Firstly you should not be concerned about offending your current doctor by requesting a second medical opinion. Medical professionals are used to consulting each other for advice and recommendations, and it is always useful to gain insights from an expert in their field.   

Once you start the process for a second medical opinion, you will need to provide medical reports relating to your condition. The second physician will then review these and provide their own advice and recommendations. Usually you won't need to have another physical exam, particularly if the second medical opinion is being conducted by an expert overseas, although in some case they may order additional tests.

In most cases you will need to pay for a second medical opinion, although some health insurance plans and other services will include access to a second medical opinion.

We offer members with our enhanced WorldCare plans access to a complimentary second medical opinion service to ensure they get the right diagnosis and the best treatment*. Members can access this service by contacting their local Customer Service Team.

*Please note we only cover the costs of the second medical opinion if it has been expressly authorised by us. Members should contact us in the first instance.