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The Power of a Second Medical Opinion

Authored by Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS. July 12, 2021

When surgery fails, doctors may tell you they’ve run out of options and there’s nothing more they can do to help your pain or when they suggest a treatment option that doesn’t seem like a good option for you and your life – what should you do? It’s a very common problem but people often don’t know what to do about it. 

It’s time to have a conversation about the importance of seeking a second opinion because research shows that as many as 62% of second opinions can dramatically change a diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan.

That was the case for my patient Eric. After two failed back surgeries, his doctor told him he just had to live with back pain that shot down his leg and into his foot and was so bad he struggled to walk. An active father, he didn’t want to accept that answer — so he started searching for a second opinion to find a doctor that was willing to give him real results and solutions. 

We started with physical therapy first to see if we could address his problem non-operatively. Physical therapy is a great first treatment option for many patients who want to delay or avoid surgery altogether, and the right treatment plan can really pay off. Unfortunately, this treatment wasn’t enough; so in June 2015, I performed a 2-level spinal fusion on Eric. There was a considerable recovery time – six weeks at home and then six months of no lifting, bending or twisting. But with time and physical therapy, Eric was back to his normal life–and now, over six years later, he remains pain-free. He’s exercising, hiking and doesn’t need a follow up for a decade unless he has symptoms before then.

“I feel great and it’s hard to imagine that I really don’t even need follow up anymore,” Eric, a father of 3 says. “Seeking that second opinion and figuring out what to do can be really hard. I remember feeling a lot of fear – would I be able to play with my kids and coach their teams if I had another procedure. But I found a doctor I could trust and now my biggest hobby is hiking. I am a Boy Scout leader and I’m taking my son and several kids in his troop on a 31-mile hike in New Mexico this summer. I just couldn’t be happier about the second chance I got and where I am today and I feel so grateful that I found a doctor who could help me get here.”

The growth of second opinions

We’re seeing a dramatic growth of second opinions at VSI. Since 2020, second opinions have made up approximately 51% of our consultations – up from just 15% in 2019.  

If you’re in need of a second opinion, here are some tips on getting a good one: 

  1. Search for doctors who offer more than one treatment option
    When people seek second opinions, often it’s because they’ve been told one option that they don’t like or doesn’t sound appealing. So when you go searching for a second opinion, look for doctors who offer creative approaches and a leveled plan of care.
    When someone comes to us with a back issue, we’re always trying to start with the least invasive option. Whenever possible, we’ll start with physical therapy, cortisone shots, aquatic therapy and regenerative medicine whenever possible before surgery.
  1. Search for a doctor who’s a good listener
    When people go looking for a second opinion, it’s also often because they’re trying to get back to an activity, profession or way of life and they don’t feel the first treatment option will help them do that. So when you go looking for a second opinion, search for a doctor who will have a conversation with you about what you want and need life after recovery to look like and will then do what they can to create a treatment plan with those goals in mind. The question I like to ask patients when I meet them for the first time is “What do you want to get back to?” I can’t give them the right solutions for them if I don’t know that information. I want patients to talk with me so we can get rid of the pain and get them back to fully living their life.
  1. Opt for personalized medicine
    When people seek out second opinions, often it’s because the first doctor they saw has one way of doing things and believes that works for everyone. But personalized, modern medicine is a growing trend because a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t meet every patient’s needs. Keep looking until you find a doctor that figures out what’s best for you.

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS

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