Why and how you should ask for a second opinion

Treatments & procedures

Your health: why it’s okay to get a second opinion

You have the right to a second medical opinion. Seeing another health professional can be reassuring and help you make informed decisions.

Charmaine Yabsley
March 2019

There may be times when you’d like to get a second medical opinion. Comparing medical advice can give you confidence if both doctors agree. Or if they don’t, it can provide you with a different view of your health and medical options.

Why get a second opinion?

You may want a second opinion because you’re unsure about your doctor’s diagnosis, medical advice or treatment plan. You might want to consult a doctor with more experience in your condition. Or you might just be looking for a better doctor-patient relationship. Not every doctor will be the right fit for every patient.

According to Dr Chris Moy, practising GP and former chair of the Australian Medical Association Ethics and Medico-legal Committee, we’re more likely to want a second opinion if our condition is serious.

“The medical situation may be so concerning that the patient wants a second opinion for confirmation and reassurance that their diagnosis and treatment plan is correct”.

In this situation, feeling like you’ve explored all your options can help to reduce anxiety, or uncertainty about treatment.

Talking to your doctor

Even though you’re entitled to ask for a second opinion, you may feel awkward raising the issue with your doctor. It’s worth having the conversation though, because they can give you a referral and share any relevant test results or medical records.

This not only gives the new doctor an immediate picture of your situation, it can save you from having to retake tests.

Finding a new GP or specialist

To see a different GP, you can make an appointment with someone else at the same practice or find another.

If you want a second opinion from a specialist, speak to your GP first. They may have a letter from the first specialist outlining their opinion, diagnosis and recommended treatment. And you might feel reassured if your GP can explain the specialist’s recommendations in terms you can understand, and answer your questions.

“If a patient comes to see me, and [they’re] unsure of what’s been said [by a specialist], I’ll print out the letter and go through it and interpret it with them,” says Dr Moy.

If you’d still prefer to see another specialist, your GP can refer you to one.

Or, if you’re an HCF member, we can help you get a free second opinion from an independent medical specialist based in Australia. (Eligibility criteria applies. Contact us to find out if you are eligible.) 

Other ways to find a specialist include asking friends and family for their recommendations or searching online at Healthshare. The search tool helps you find specialists who partner with HCF, which may reduce the costs for eligible HCF members. All HCF members with health cover can also access a standard online video GP consultation (up to 10 minutes) for a fee of $50 with GP2U

What you’ll need

Ask your GP or specialist to send your medical history, including test results and letters, to the new doctor. Depending on your preferences, your doctor may be able to access some of this information online through My Health Record.

“Anybody is able to obtain their own copies of their health history under the Privacy Act,” says Dr Moy.

Let the new doctor know that you’re seeking a second opinion and why. That way, the doctor can address your concerns directly. It may help to prepare a list of questions before your appointment and take notes during your consultation.

Get a second opinion

At HCF our members come first. That’s why we help them get a free second opinion from a local, independent medical specialist.

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