Should you get a second medical opinion?

Sometime people feel awkward about seeking a second opinion about their medical diagnosis or treatment, as there is a perception that some physicians will get insulted or see it as lack of respect from patients or caregivers. In most cases, clinicians understand you want the best care and advice for yourself or your friend/family member.

It is within your right to seek medical care from a variety of professionals. Some may have different training or more up to date knowledge on a topic, particularly in the field of brain injury.

Reasons you or your friend/family member may wish to get a second medical opinion include:

  • You are unsure or have reason to question a diagnosis
  • You are trying to decide about a new treatment or a surgery that may have a high risk and/or high cost out of pocket
  • You are not clear about if or how well a test or treatment may work
  • You need more information about all options available[1]

Another situation which could lead to the desire for a second opinion is if you have talked to someone who had a wonderful experience with another clinician and saw improved health outcomes. While it is certainly helpful to learn more details, you must also keep in mind that each brain injury is different (as are the circumstances leading to the brain injury) so the outcomes for yourself or a friend/family member may not be the same.

Finding a second opinion

There are a variety of ways to find a possible second opinion.

  • Ask the physician for a recommendation of someone else who works in the field but is not closely associated or a direct colleague
  • Use word of mouth. Perhaps there is someone that has been recommended by a friend or acquaintance, or you read about a physician in an article
  • Contact your provincial/territorial College of Physicians and Surgeons
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
2700 Telus Plaza South
10020 — 100 Street NW
Edmonton AB T5J 0N3
Telephone:(780) 423-4764; public inquiries:1 (800) 561-3899
Find a physician in Alberta
British Columbia
College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia
300-669 Howe Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 0B4
Telephone:(604) 733-7758 or 1 (800) 461-3008
Find a physician in British Columbia
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba
1000 – 1661 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg MB R3J 3T7
Telephone:(204) 774-4344
Find a family doctor in Manitoba
New Brunswick
College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick
1 Hampton Road, Suite 300
Rothesay NB E2E 5K8
Telephone:(506) 849-5050 or 1 (800) 667-4641
Find a physician in New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland & Labrador
139 Water St, Suite 603
Saint John’s NL A1C 1B2
Telephone:(709) 726-8546
Find a physician in Newfoundland and Labrador
Find a physician specialist in Newfoundland and Labrador
Northwest Territories
Health and Social Services
Government of the Northwest Territories

PO Box 1320
Yellowknife NT X1A 2L9
Telephone:(867) 920-8058
Government of Northwest Territories Health and Social Services 
Nova Scotia
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia
7071 Bayers Road, Suite 5005
Halifax NS B3L 2C2
Telephone:(902) 422-5823 or 1 (877) 282-7767
Find a physician in Nova Scotia 
Department of Health and Social Services – Government of Nunavut
P.O. Box 1000 Station 200
Iqaluit, Nunavut
X0A 0H0
Telephone:1 (877) 212-64382
Government of Nunavut Department of Health 
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
80 College Street
Toronto ON M5G 2E2
Telephone:(416) 967-2603 or 1 (800) 268-7096
Find a doctor in Ontario
Prince Edward Island
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Prince Edward Island
14 Paramount Drive
Charlottetown, PEI C1E 0C7
Telephone:(902) 566-3861
Find a physician in Prince Edward Island
Collège des médecins du Québec
1250 boulevard René-Lévesque Ouest, Suite 3500
Montréal (Québec) H3B 0G2
Telephone:(514) 933-4441 ou 1 (888) 633-3246
Find a physician in Québec
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan
500-321A-21st Street East
Saskatoon SK S7K 0C1
Telephone:(306) 244-7355 or 1 (800) 667-1668
Find a doctor in Saskatchewan
Yukon Medical Council
c/o Registrar of Medical Practitioners
Box 2703 C-18
Whitehorse YT Y1A 2C6
Telephone:(867) 667-3774
Find a physician in Yukon

Preparing for a second opinion

Becoming as educated as possible on the topics and treatments will help you become a better health advocate.  You will be better able to converse with clinicians and provide information that might be helpful in recovery.

As clinician visits are usually short, you will need to be prepared before and during the appointment. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Write down some talking point or notes so you don’t forget any questions you may have. You can also ask a friend or family member at the appointment to keep notes
  • If you have articles or research papers about brain injury you want to share with the clinician, bring copies to the appointment. Try to keep it to under three as a clinician is less likely to read a stack of articles
  • Ensure your sources of information are reputable, credible and based on evidence.   University and medical research centres are examples of reputable sources
  • Be open to the clinician’s perspective and knowledge of the topic. Take notes so you don’t forget what they have said
  • Ask for more links or resources so you can be more informed

There are some barriers to seeking a second opinion. Their may be limitations due to the number of clinicians in your area, or waitlists that could be anywhere from a few weeks to months. You will also have to ensure you have proper up-to-date medical records. It’s helpful as recovery progresses to request copies of their medical records. This will alleviate the wait time associated with getting a copy made or the possible transfer of care that could happen if the doctors requests the records on the person’s behalf.

What to do with the results

Sometimes the physician will come to the same conclusion for the diagnosis or pathway of care as the first clinician. This should help alleviate any uncertainty from a medical perspective.

In other cases, they will have different opinions. Both options may be good, but what is the best way to make such an important decision?

It is suggested that you take the results from the second opinion back to the initial physician for review.  There will be other factors to consider in the decision-making process.

  • Is one clinician suggesting a surgery that will have long recovery times? What are the benefits?
  • Is there a cost associated with the treatment, and if so, will it be covered by insurance or will there be out-of-pocket expenses?

Take the time to discuss the results. Ultimately it is up to the person receiving treatment, and they need to make the best decision for them and their recovery. Caregivers, friends and family members can help with the decision-making process, offer advice or any support the person with the brain injury might need. If a caregiver is the primary decision-maker for the person with a brain injury, consult with other immediate family members and explain how the decision has been reached.

See sources

Disclaimer: There is no shortage of web-based online medical diagnostic tools, self-help or support groups, or sites that make unsubstantiated claims around diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Please note these sources may not be evidence-based, regulated or moderated properly and it is encouraged individuals seek advice and recommendations regarding diagnosis, treatment and symptom management from a regulated healthcare professional such as a physician or nurse practitioner. Individuals should be cautioned about sites that make any of the following statements or claims that:

  • The product or service promises a quick fix
  • Sound too good to be true
  • Are dramatic or sweeping and are not supported by reputable medical and scientific organizations.
  • Use of terminology such as “research is currently underway” or “preliminary research results” which indicate there is no current research.
  • The results or recommendations of product or treatment are based on a single or small number of case studies and has not been peer-reviewed by external experts
  • Use of testimonials from celebrities or previous clients/patients that are anecdotal and not evidence-based 

Always proceed with caution and with the advice of your medical team.