Advice for Dr. Mom: Getting a Second Opinion – How to Advocate for your Child within the Medical System

Asking for a second opinion is often a difficult situation for patients and their families. Most of the time, your family physician or pediatrician can manage the problems that come up in the life of a baby, child or adolescent.

As a pediatrician of over 20 years, I know the limits of my knowledge and when it’s pushed or exceeded, I seek the opinion of a colleague or if necessary, a specialist to help answer a patient’s question or help untangle a medical problem.

As much as I implicitly trust my circle of colleagues to help me, the key is that their opinions and solutions must also resonate with the patient and the family. If there is a breakdown in communication, a lack of understanding of the fears or vulnerabilities, or the time isn’t taken to make sure the diagnosis, treatment and plan is fully understood, often families may return disappointed and want a second opinion.

Prepping patients for a consultant visit is our duty. We should give our patient a heads up about the consultant’s personality, level of expertise, and even a brief preview of what to expect in during the office visit (wait times, office staff). If our patients know ahead of time what to expect, the visit generally is more successful and expectations are realistic.

It is so important that patients feel comfortable enough to return their concerns to us so that we can 1) assist with choosing another consultant for a second opinion, 2) sort out why the original consultation failed to inspire confidence and 3) question whether that consultant should continue to be recommended to other patients.

So as a patient, how can you ask for a second opinion?

Schedule time with your primary doctor to discuss the original consultant’s visit. Discuss the diagnosis, treatment and plan and see if it now makes sense delivered by your own doctor. If it doesn’t, or you are unwilling to continue to follow through with the original consultant, tell your doctor why.

It really matters to us that our colleagues and their staff treat you with respect and consideration. If that interaction breaks down repeatedly, our referral patterns are subject to change.

On the flip side, as primary providers, our comfort level with a first opinion may be jostled, and as a result, we request a second opinion. Patients need to know that our need for an acceptable solution and plan may require involving another consultant.

The assumption here is intact and open communication with your primary doctor so that through the entire process, both doctor and patient are on the same page. Seeking second or multiple opinions is the right of the patient, but it is key to share your process with your primary doctor so that you have his/her guidance and support.

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About Dr. JJ Levenstein, M.D.
Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics with a private pediatric practice in Encino, Calif. She serves on the clinical staff of two hospitals and has been voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2004 through 2010. Drawing on her experience as a pediatrician and mother, Dr. Levenstein serves as president and co-founder of MD Moms, maker of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms.

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