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A Second Opinion Is Good, But A Third Or Fourth?

A few years ago I started writing a book on what it was like to be a cancer patient and an oncologist. This morning I came upon this section on second opinions:

Is It OK To Get A Second Opinion?

Definitely. And there’s no need to be secretive about it, or to worry about hurting the doctor’s feelings. Second opinions are routine in fields like oncology, and are often covered by insurance. Be up-front: Any decent oncologist can understand a cancer patient’s need to find a doctor who’s right for them, with whom they’re comfortable making important decisions. And in difficult cases, some specialists appreciate the chance to discuss the situation with another expert. So a second opinion can be beneficial to patients and physicians alike.

When things can get out of hand, though, is when patients start “doctor shopping.” For example, I’ve cared for some patients with leukemia who’ve been to see over 10 oncol­o­gists. If you’re acutely sick, this sort of approach to illness can be coun­ter­pro­ductive — it can delay needed therapy. From the physician’s per­spective, it’s alien­ating: Who wants to invest her time, intel­lectual effort, and feelings for a patient who’s unlikely to follow up? Besides, oncology is the sort of field where each con­sulting doctor may have a dis­tinct opinion. (If you see 10 oncol­o­gists, you may get 10 opinions.) Beyond a certain point, it may not help to get more input, but instead will cloud the issue. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

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