Many patients want to get a second opinion after being told they have a life-altering condition or after their doctor recommends a treatment that is risky or that isn’t covered by insurance.

When is a second opinion advisable?

Mr. Judith Storf, a counsellor at an independent patient advisory service in Bielefeld, Germany said, patients often feel the possible therapies have not been thoroughly explained or they want to review the diagnosis. Sometimes patients say that their doctor has advised them to seek a second opinion.

Germany’s nationwide association for physicians in Berlin also endorses the principle of getting a second opinion. “If you seek advice from two or even three consultants about investing money then when it comes to your own heath, you should do the same,” said the association’s President Mr. Joerg - Dietrich Hoppe. This applies especially when a diagnosis means a life-altering condition has been detected.

Not only a tumour diagnosis, but also diagnoses of degenerative illnesses will impair one’s ability to make decisions.

“In such cases, patients should proceed with the greatest measure of certainty,” said Hoppe.

Finding a doctor to provide a second opinion

Ms. Storf advises patients to avoid using search engines that supposedly spit out the name of another doctor. “The quality and reliability of these techniques tend toward zero,” she said. A better way is to go to a local independent advisor. “They have the advantage of having a good overview of what physicians offer. Even if they cannot recommend a doctor, they can identify several criteria’s.” Patients also can consult their health insurer, many of which offer help from specialists who can be reached on a hotline or by appointment.

Two doctors, two opinions

In this situation only one thing helps. Consider what appears to be better for one’s own interests. Could one of the doctors perhaps have a financial interest in one particular treatment method? Are there accepted standard medical treatments for the condition? The patient must then make a decision. “This is the downside of being a responsible patient,” said Elss. “When you have gathered all the information, you have to make a decision.” To act only out of a sense of duty toward the doctor is not advisable.

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