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Second opinion

Introduction

You can ask your GP or another healthcare 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 healthcare professional will rarely refuse to refer you for one.

Do you need a second opinion?

Before requesting a second opinion, it’s worth asking your GP or consultant to go over and explain anything you don’t understand.

If you’re unhappy with your diagnosis or would like to consider a different course of treatment, discuss this with them. Your GP or consultant will be happy to explain things and in many cases there may be no need for a second opinion.

Can anyone else ask for a second opinion?

Your family or carer can also ask for a second opinion on your behalf, but only with your consent. If someone requests a second opinion on your behalf, they should have all the information about your illness or condition, and check they understand it thoroughly.

Sometimes a GP or consultant may ask a colleague to provide a second opinion. For example, doctors may ask their colleagues about a complicated case.

Second opinion from a different GP

If you would like a second opinion after receiving advice from your GP, you can ask them to refer you to another GP.

Alternatively, you may consider asking to see a different GP at your surgery, if you’re registered at a surgery with more than one GP, or changing to a different GP surgery.

Second opinion from a different consultant

If you would like a second opinion after seeing a consultant (a senior medical doctor who specialises in a particular field of medicine), you need to go back to your GP and ask them to refer you again. If your GP agrees to refer you to a new consultant, the consultant will be told that this is your second opinion. They will also be sent any relevant test results or X-rays previously carried out.

This does not mean that the new consultant will automatically take over your care. If you want to be treated by the new consultant, this will need to be arranged with the doctors and hospital.

How long will I have to wait for a second opinion?

People who ask for a second opinion have already seen a doctor, so they may have to wait. A second opinion with a different consultant will also usually be at a different hospital, which may involve some travelling.

Getting a second opinion may therefore delay any treatment that you need. If you have a serious medical condition, you should take this into account when deciding to ask for a second opinion. Ask your doctor whether a delay in starting treatment could be harmful.

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Why is it necessary?

It is important that you, the patient, and your family or carers have all the information needed about your illness or condition, and that this information is understood. It is also important that you have confidence in the person providing the information.

Patients, their familys or carers are sometimes asked to make an important decision regarding treatment options. In this case it is quite common for a second opinion to be requested so that the diagnosis and all possible treatment options can be fully understood.  A patient may want to know the prognosis (prediction of the probable course, outcome and likelihood of recovery from a disease) before proceeding with the recommended treatment.

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How does it work?

A second opinion may be requested by:

  • You, the patient  because you have doubts about the first diagnosis or the suggested course of treatment. You may like an alternative diagnosis or course of treatment to be investigated or you may simply require confirmation of the diagnosis, or treatment, from another doctor.
  • Your carer or a relative (this must be with your consent).
  • GP - if your GP is unsure about a diagnosis, they may refer you to a consultant or another GP. They could be found negligent if they fail to do this and you suffer as a result.
  • Consultant - it is fairly common for a consultant to ask for a further opinion from a colleague if a case is particularly complicated.

You may request a second opinion after you have seen your GP, consultant or other health professional.

Second opinion from a GP:

If you are not happy with the advice you have been given by your GP, and would like a second opinion, you have three options:

  • If you are registered with a multi-GP practice, you can ask to see another GP in the practice,
  • Your GP can write a letter referring you to a GP in another local practice, or
  • Your GP can write a letter referring you to a private GP, for which you may have to pay.

You may at any time ask to register with another GP practice. However, the practice is under no obligation to accept you on their register.

Second opinion from a consultant or specialist:

A specialist is a doctor who has chosen and trained in a speciality area, e.g. paediatrician, surgeon, gynaecologist. Your GP will refer you to the specialist in your geographical area, who has the most expertise and is most appropriate for you. A specialist will only see you with a letter of referral from your GP. This letter will give the specialist essential background information on medication, previous treatments and anything your GP would like considered.

If you would like a second opinion on any recommended treatment, your specialist or GP will usually be prepared to arrange this. Or you may ask your consultant to make a consultant-to-consultant referral. 

If you want to see a private specialist, you should also get a referral from your GP. If you see a private specialist without a GP referral, your GP is not obliged to accept the specialist’s advice.

Second opinion from a dentist:

Your dentist should explain to you the advantages and disadvantages of any treatment they recommend, and tell you about any alternatives that are available. With this information you will be able to make a decision about whether or not to have the treatment.

You can ask your dentist to refer you for a second opinion if you are unsure about a treatment plan. Your dentist will refer you to either a hospital or to a Dental Reference Officer for the second opinion. Although you are always free to ask another dentist for a second opinion, the NHS does not cover this option, so you may have to pay a private charge if you choose to do this.

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Advantages

A second opinion may clarify the original diagnosis and suggested course of treatment. If the two experts agree it will reassure you and increase your confidence in your GP, consultant, or other healthcare professional, as well as giving you more choice about who will carry out the recommended treatment. Other things such as geographical location, waiting times or personal recommendation may also affect your decision.

Even if the two opinions are different, this will give you more options, as well as giving the GP, consultant or other healthcare professional feedback on diagnosis and the opportunity to consider an alternative treatment.

If you decide to undergo the treatment recommended by the second GP, consultant or healthcare professional, you must obtain a formal referral from the person who provided the original opinion.

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Disadvantages

If you request a second opinion, you should be aware that this will not take priority, and there may be a long wait.

A second opinion with a different consultant could be at a different hospital, which may involve some travelling.

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Complaints/Concerns

If you are having difficulty obtaining a second opinion, you can contact your Local Health Board. Additional advice and support can be obtained by contacting your local Community Health Council or your local Citizens Advice Bureau (see the Selected Links section below).

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Recommendations

Your GP, consultant or healthcare professional, should check your understanding, explain any medical terms and provide an opportunity for you to ask questions. Any information should be summarised, written down and supported by published information if available. Any fears or concerns you have should be listened to. You should receive emotional support for yourself and your family, if appropriate.

Before asking for a second opinion, it is worth noting that your dissatisfaction with the first opinion may be down to a communication failure between you and your GP, consultant or healthcare professional. Asking them to explain things to you again may easily rectify this – it’s often helpful to make a list of questions before you see them, or to ask someone else to accompany you who can ask questions on your behalf. If you can do this then there may be no need to obtain a second opinion.

If you are unhappy with your diagnosis or you do not understand the advice you have been given, go back to your GP or consultant and ask them to explain anything you are not sure about. If you would like an alternative course of treatment to be considered then discuss this with your GP.

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 03/06/2015 08:19:46

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