Asking for a Friend: How do I tell my doctor I want a second opinion?

'You want to be confident with your doctor and the plan, and if that means seeking a second opinion, you should definitely ask for it.'

Maja Begovic 4 minute read December 17, 2021
asking doctor second opinion

If for any reason you’re not comfortable with the care you that you receive from your doctor, you’re entitled to explore other options. (Getty)

Dear Asking For A Friend,

I respect my doctor, however, I would like to seek a second opinion. What’s the easiest way to have this conversation without ruining our relationship?

Signed, Worried Patient


Dear Worried Patient,

Getting a second opinion is definitely warranted in some scenarios, like if your doctor consistently fails to provide a rationale for their decisions, if your diagnosis is life-threatening or if your symptoms don’t improve. Similarly, if you require an emergency procedure or if the treatment plan suggested for you is experimental, you may benefit from the advice of another medical expert. And if for any reason, you’re not comfortable with the care you that you receive, you’re entitled to explore other options.

Referrals for a second opinion are part of the medical profession, and a patient asking for one shouldn’t cause a rift in a healthy patient-doctor relationship. In fact, the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics and Professionalism instructs doctors to respect a patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion.

Dr. Howard Evans, urologic surgeon at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton and member of the board of directors for the Alberta Medical Association explains that “requests for a second opinion are always tough for a patient and sometimes tough for a doctor to hear as they may feel the patient doesn’t believe in him or her.”

He suggests that that the easiest way to disarm and diffuse any awkwardness is to ask your doctor directly whether a second opinion might be worthwhile. Evans says that any doctor who is confident in their diagnosis and plan, should feel at ease with the request for a second opinion — but if this isn’t the case, you might want to position your ask in another way.

“Say something like, ‘My relative saw Dr. X for a similar problem and was very pleased — is there any way I could see him or her for a second opinion?’” advises Evans. “’I have utmost trust in you, but my relative feels an opinion from him or her would also be helpful.’”

Don’t be afraid to be honest with your doctor — share your concerns, and ask for clarification on anything you’re unsure about, including any test results, medications or suggested treatment plan. If your symptoms don’t improve or your condition gets worse, ask more questions: Is there something else that might be going on that hasn’t yet been considered or ruled out? It’s perfectly okay to say that you’re worried about your health and that a second opinion could help put your mind at ease. That said, depending on where you live, it may take months before you’re actually assessed by another specialist.

Tips on having the ‘second opinion’ chat with your doctor

There are excellent resources available online from Healthcare Excellence Canada on second opinions — including tips on how to have a productive discussion with your doctor.

If you’ve wanted a second opinion more than once, it’s worth asking yourself if your doctor is the right fit for you. It’s not always the diagnosis or the treatment plan that’s the issue — it could be your doctor’s bedside manner, personality or how they deliver and share information that’s causing you to lose confidence in them.

If you’re feeling dismissed or ignored by your doctor, if they rush through the appointment or, worse yet, if they pressure you to agree to a specific treatment plan, consider making the switch sooner rather than later. Transferring your medical records to another office is a straightforward process, but securing a new healthcare provider may take time. Tap into your own network, ask for recommendations, and wait to make the switch until you have another doctor lined up.

If your doctor reacts poorly to your request for a referral — if they’re dismissive, defensive or rude — look for help elsewhere. As a last resort, you may visit an emergency room, an urgent care centre or a walk-in clinic and explain your symptoms.

“At the end of the day there is nothing more important than your health,” says Evans. “You want to be confident with your doctor and the plan, and if that means seeking a second opinion, you should definitely ask for it. If a doctor takes great offence to such a request, then maybe they aren’t the right doctor for you in the end.”

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