The decision to have surgery is an important one. Whether it’s cosmetic surgery or an orthopedic procedure like knee surgery, we all want to feel certain we’ve chosen the right course of action.

Getting a second opinion for surgery can give you a better understanding of the details, risks, recovery process and any alternatives, including nonsurgical ones. With more knowledge, you’ll be able to prepare for your surgery – or start a different treatment plan – feeling you’ve made the best choice.

When should I get a second opinion before surgery?

Think about seeking a second opinion when your doctor says you have enough time to gather more information or explore other options. Getting a second opinion is actually pretty common, and it can be a particularly good idea when:

You feel like you need more information about your surgery

It’s important to have a full understanding of your procedure and how it will help you get back to feeling better. Do you feel fully briefed on any potential risks? Have your doctor and surgeon taken the time to answer all of your questions? Are you confident that your surgeon can expertly (and safely) perform the procedure? If you’re not sure you’re making the best choice, it may be time to look for a second opinion.

Your doctor doesn’t specialize in your type of surgery

Surgeons specialize in many different areas of expertise, from general surgery to orthopedics to surgical dermatology and much more. If your doctor or surgeon doesn’t have as much experience with your recommended procedure, a second opinion from another doctor or surgeon can help clarify your treatment plan.

You’re told surgery is your only option

In some cases, there may be less invasive or noninvasive solutions to consider as part of your treatment plan. You’ll also want to consider if surgery will help you accomplish your goals, whether those are getting back to running daily, moving around your home with less pain or anything else. Seeing another surgeon, or a different type of doctor, may offer new perspectives.

You’re interested in cosmetic surgery

Not every cosmetic surgeon has the same training, certifications or experience. If you’re curious about cosmetic surgery, it’s best to research your options. Ask questions about your surgeon’s qualifications and see if there are patient testimonials or before-and-after pictures for the procedure you have in mind. Also, because your health insurance likely won’t cover procedures that aren’t medically necessary, a second opinion can help you compare costs. Some surgeons offer no-cost cosmetic surgery consultations.

Does insurance cover second opinions for surgery?

Check with your health insurance plan to review what’s covered. In some cases, getting a second opinion is actually necessary before your coverage kicks in.

Your insurance company can provide a list of doctors and surgeons that are in your network. But for procedures that aren’t medically necessary, often neither the second opinion nor the surgery itself are covered. It’s best to check with your insurance company about your personal situation. If a second opinion is called for, use it as an opportunity to learn more about your procedure and treatment options.

How to get a second opinion before surgery

An essential part of the process is talking with your current doctor or surgeon about getting a second opinion for surgery. Don’t worry about offending them – most have been through second opinions before and understand how routine they are. They’re likely to support and encourage you, and they can also be great resources for where to look.

How to get a second opinion after surgery

Some people ask if you can get a second opinion after having your surgery. And, the answer is yes. However, if you have questions, it’s best to talk to the doctor who did the surgery.

Your doctor will have the best information about your procedure and what you can expect from the healing and recovery process. Even if you think you may need an additional surgery or treatment, start by talking to your doctor. Then, if you’d like another opinion about what to do next, reach out to another doctor.

What should I do to prepare for my second opinion appointment?

After you make your appointment, ask your current doctor’s office and surgeon’s office to send all your medical information. It’s ideal to have the doctor or surgeon you’re getting a second opinion from review your medical history, testing results, medical imaging and treatment notes before you arrive.

You may also want to write down any questions and concerns beforehand so you’re ready to ask them during your appointment. These can help you remember any specific topics you want to cover. They can also help you determine what factors will be most important to you in choosing a particular surgeon or treatment plan.

What happens at a second opinion appointment?

When your appointment begins, your doctor or surgeon should be ready to share their viewpoint. Taking notes can make it easier to follow the conversation if the details get technical. Your notes will also come in handy later when you review information on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need, including finding out about your doctor’s or surgeon’s background, how often they treat patients with similar diagnoses and their patients’ success rates. Your doctor or surgeon wants to make sure you understand your options.

It also helps to find out how your doctors or surgeons came to their conclusions about your case. Questions you can ask include:

  • What evidence led you to your decision?
  • Is surgery a typical treatment for this condition?
  • How is my case similar to or different from other patients you’ve seen?
  • Are there minimally invasive or noninvasive treatments that could be right for me?

Sometimes, the recommendations from your first treatment plan may differ from the recommendations you get after seeking a second opinion. If this happens, try to look into where each agrees or disagrees. Think about not only what’s recommended but also how your doctors or surgeons arrived at their insights.

After I get a second opinion, what should I do next?

Your choice of treatment is always up to you. Consider the advantages and disadvantages, the basis for your doctors’ recommendations, and any other treatments that also fit with your care goals. Your primary care doctor may be able to help you determine the right next steps if you’re having a tough time making a decision. Family members and friends can also provide useful input.

Whatever route you choose, it can be reassuring to know you did your research. Entering surgery, or any treatment, feeling you made an informed decision can help you be more committed to your care and recovery. When it comes to your well-being, there’s nothing wrong with using a second opinion to boost your confidence.