Your doctor will not be offended by asking him/her about getting a second opinion. A second opinion is a request to a doctor at a different center to review your child’s medical information and offer their recommendation about what is the best treatment for your child. This might or might not involve having that doctor examine your child. Sometimes second opinions can be done by email or telephone. A second opinion helps some parents confirm that the treatment being offered is indeed the best one for their child, or it may make them feel that they want to discuss other treatment options with their child’s doctor.
Doctors understand a parent’s need for as much certainty as possible, and most consider second opinions a part of this difficult journey. The ideal way to do this is with the full cooperation of your child’s primary oncologist. This assures that any consulting doctor gains quick and full access your child’s latest tests, scans and prior medical history, and helps your child avoid unnecessary second scans and tests (and more radiation exposure, possible sedation and procedures). Additional tests may be necessary in the long run if tests have been inconclusive or subject to interpretation, but you want to reduce health risks and costs if possible. It may also help in formulating a final treatment plan for your child.
In rare cases, your doctors may recommend against getting a second opinion if they truly feel that it will delay treatment and further threaten your child’s health. However, if time allows, a second opinion not only might help your child, but also can help build confidence in your home team and remove some burdensome ‘what if’ from your relationship with them.
HOW one requests a second opinion can be important. Some parents find it easier to approach their child’s doctor with the request in the following way: “We’re scared, and while we understand that you have our child’s best interests at heart, we want to be sure that we’re making the right decisions. We need to put our minds at ease and remove as many doubts as possible. Therefore, we’d appreciate your help in getting a second opinion.”
It may be that a second opinion will confirm what your team is doing now, or, if different, that the doctors you are consulting with can work with your current team to devise an alternative strategy and prevent having you to move to another facility far from home. (Consider also the possible stress of having to relocate or get treatment in a strange city or setting.) If you do wind up moving your child’s care to another hospital or city, it’s important to keep your home team in the treatment loop since some facilities may offer a trial or treatment, but only perform certain parts of it, requiring you to do the rest of the treatment at your home institution. This may be partly for practical reasons and also to better assure insurance coverage. You also don’t want to cut off your local care options in the event that you have to rely on your home hospital to help you with any new therapies or emergency situations.
Although it is more difficult, you can seek another opinion without the help of your child’s primary oncologist. Your child’s full medical records are yours legally. Many scans and records can be sent electronically to another doctor or facility. Most doctors will insist upon as much medical information as possible in order to provide a sound second opinion.