Spine Surgery: When Should You Get a Second Opinion?

“You should get a second opinion.”

You may have heard that term tossed around in regards to your healthcare diagnoses, but when is it time to take it seriously? Getting a second opinion requires time, money and doing one’s due diligence to find a reputable doctor and the one who is right for you.

When it comes to spine surgery — or your spine in general — don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if you want to feel assured. At the National Spine Health Foundation, we work with spine surgeons from across the country who have given the thumbs up to patients seeking out second opinions. Let’s have a conversation about second opinions.

Why People Don’t Get Second Opinions

Many patients are worried that their primary doctor may be offended. They don’t want their healthcare provider to feel they don’t trust them or respect their opinion. Others feel stressed out about the time it takes to find another doctor, make an appointment, and go through the process of their pain from the beginning again.

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With those reasons in mind, it’s extremely important to ensure you feel comfortable and educated about a process as invasive as back surgery. The surgeons featured in our recent Spine-Talks program say they would not be insulted if a patient sought out a second opinion regarding surgery.

“When somebody is undergoing spine surgery, it’s a scary event,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gum, a spine surgeon at Norton Leatherman Spine Center. “It’s a big deal for any patient to go through…make sure you get all your information right.”

Why It’s OK to Get a Second Opinion

As non-medical professionals, most people facing spine surgery are receiving a barrage of new information. The terminology, treatments, and recovery processes are foreign — and it can all be a bit overwhelming.

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That’s why it’s never a bad idea to seek a second opinion. In fact, being pro-active about getting a second opinion is empowering, offering the patient a role in their treatment they may not have expected. This is a good thing for everyone! Here are a few reasons why getting a second opinion may be a good idea for you:

  • Personal Reassurance: Enter your surgery feeling educated, empowered and assured that you have done everything you can to make the right decision.
  • New Information: An alternate doctor might point out something you hadn’t thought of before — something worth consideration.
  • Variety of Experience: No two doctors are alike or have seen the exact same cases. A different doctor may have more relevant experience to your specific condition — or know something another didn’t. Healthcare is a constant learning process for doctors, too.
  • Peace of Mind: If at least two surgeons agree on the procedure you need to have, it will be comforting to know your research in finding a second opinion paid off. The peace of mind that comes with this kind of consensus can be so helpful to you as a patient.

“If you are not 100% comfortable with your surgeon, go somewhere else,” said Dr. Jim Schwender of Twin Cities Spine Center. “You have to go into that day with 100% confidence in your surgeon.” Like Dr. Schwender, Dr. Martin Pham of UC San Diego Health said he would “never be offended” if a patient said they were seeking a second opinion.

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Why You May Want a Second Opinion

You don’t need to justify your desire for a second opinion. There are many reasons you may seek one. Some questions that may be helpful to consider are:

  • Do you feel uncomfortable in your relationship with your surgeon in any way?
  • Is your surgeon pushing surgery when you want to continue trying other methods?
  • Do you feel rushed or unheard as the patient in your appointments?
  • Have prior treatments been unsuccessful and the same surgeon is proposing new ones?
  • Would you feel better getting insight from more than one surgeon?

What Should You Do if You Want a Second Opinion?

Let your doctor know that you are interested in seeking a second opinion. If the doctor is offended, that signals that you are likely right in wanting someone else to take a look. A doctor should not be offended if a patient is interested in seeking a second opinion.

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Call your health insurance company to see if they offer coverage for second opinions and speak with your healthcare network about the process for doing so. Be sure to get copies of all your records and up-to-date medical information so you can easily provide this documentation to the new physician.

Come to your appointment prepared with questions, ready to take notes, and you will be ready to make the best healthcare decision for you when it’s over. When you have all your information at hand and can think through what both providers have offered, you have empowered yourself and your personal health.