Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complicated disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Sometimes, getting a second opinion can help you identify issues and fine-tune the care you receive. Today, I’m going to look at what a second opinion is, when you may need it, and how to go about getting one.
What is a second opinion?
A second opinion involves getting the opinions and recommendations of two separate doctors regarding particular symptoms. Doctors frequently consult with each other, getting second, and even third opinions, when they encounter a problematic case.
Healthcare is not the only field in which it can be useful to ask another expert to take a look at what’s going on. Getting another pair of eyes can be very helpful in assessing a problem. For instance, if you’re renovating your home, and not happy with your contractor, you may ask another to take a look at the plans. When you have a problem with your computer and the tech you’ve hired can’t fix the bug, you consult another technician.
When to get a second opinion
There are a number of situations in which you may want to pursue a second opinion:
Difficulties getting a diagnosis. It is quite common for people in the early stages of RA to see several doctors before getting a diagnosis. RA can be difficult to diagnose, especially when symptoms first appear. If you believe you may have RA, but your rheumatologist doesn’t, getting a second, third, or perhaps even fourth, opinion may be needed to get an answer.
Concerns about treatment recommendations. Are you uncomfortable with the treatment, or way of treatment, your doctor recommends? Examples of this might include recommendations for Biologics, a class of drug that has the potential for some serious, but rare, side effects. Many people are nervous when this is recommended. Another situation could involve a doctor who is conservative in treating your symptoms. You may have heard about the switch in rheumatology to the treat-to-target approach and want a more aggressive treatment.
Exploring your options. Exploring the different options that are available to you is a completely valid reason for seeking a second opinion. It’s important to remember that doctors are not infallible. You may seek a second opinion if you want to make doubly sure that their recommendation is the best option for you.
Insurance company requires a second opinion. Insurance companies vary in how involved they get in the care you receive from your medical team. However, some insurance companies do require second opinions, especially with a diagnosis of a serious illness, such as RA, other chronic illnesses, or cancer.
Interpersonal issues with current doctor. Your relationship with your doctor is like any other connection you have. It builds on what both of you bring to the relationship, including your personalities, past history, and human preferences and foibles. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. It’s not always possible to switch doctors, though. If you have limited options, try to advocate for yourself, and talk to your doctor about ways to improve your relationship.
How to get a second opinion
When you’re looking for a physician who can give you a second opinion, ask for recommendations. Your current doctor may give you a few names, but it’s also good idea to talk to friends, people in the community, your family doctor, and perhaps check doctor rating sites, such as RateMDs. Your insurance company’s website may also have a list of doctors accepted in their plan.
Once you’ve found a doctor, call their office to make sure they accept new patients, and that they’re covered by your insurance plan. If everything’s good to go, arrange to have your records sent to the office before your appointment.
Choosing between doctors
At some point, you have to choose which doctor you want on your team. If they both agree on treatment recommendations, it may come down to personality and with which doctor you feel more of a ‘click.’ If recommendations differ, make sure you do enough research that you can make an informed decision on the matter. Then choose the doctor whose recommendations make you the most comfortable.
If you still don’t have enough clarity, or there is a significant discrepancy between the two doctors’ recommendations, it may be time to get a third opinion. If this is necessary, follow the same process again.
It’s not unusual for people to feel uncomfortable in asking for a second opinion, or having to fire their doctor. Remember that your doctor is not your friend. Ideally, you’ll have an excellent relationship, but they are a paid and highly specialized expert, and you are their customer. It is your right to choose the kind of doctor you want on your care team.
Most doctors understand that encouraging their patients to get additional information and recommendations is an aspect of being a good physician. If your doctor behaves in a less than mature manner, perhaps that’s a sign that you should find another doctor.
Have you ever sought a second opinion?
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.