Friday, June 21, 2024

Getting a Second Opinion for Your Elderly Parent

Your mother has been seeing the same general practitioner since the beginning of time, and maybe even delivered you! But, today, you are not sure of his advice, diagnosis, or treatment and you are not sure how to handle it.

On the one hand, there is familiarity and comfort that your parent may have with a certain doctor. You also want to keep the doctor and maybe you fear making him or her angry if you question something.

On the other hand, this is your mother or father and you want the very best care and want to know if there are other options. These fears and concerns are all valid. Getting another doctor’s opinion or seeking the advice of a specialist in these situations will most likely go smoothly if you keep some things in mind.

It is always wise to tell your original doctor of your need to get a second opinion from a doctor.  If your concern is regarding medication, it is also perfectly acceptable to seek advice from a pharmacist regarding drug interactions and side effects. Of course, if there is a discrepancy, you will then need to approach the original doctor. In any case where the two opinions vary – you will want to go back to your original doctor with your findings and make sure that you are not allowing two different treatments for the same set of concerns.

Next, remember that your parent’s doctor is working for you and your family. You have every right to want the best care for your loved ones. Any doctor worth his salt will not be upset if you get a second opinion or ask questions about his decisions. Doctors are human and they have limitations and they make mistakes just like the rest of us. Most good doctors welcome help from others and have an open mind regarding their own limitations. If you get negativity from a doctor regarding your desire to get a second opinion, it may be a good sign that it is time to move on anyway.

It is also important to talk this over well with your loved one.  Generational differences will often appear with regard to comfort levels in questioning a doctor.  You need to guage how comfortable your parent is and talk over how to best approach the situation.  Some people in older generations would never think to question a doctor.  So, it is best to involve your parent in this process before proceeding.

Tips for Talking to the Doctor About a Second Opinion

  1. Don’t alienate your original doctor. You can be very positive and thankful for his or her long relationship with you and the services you have received. Start with a compliment such as “we just love coming here and really appreciate all that you have done for mom.”
  2. BUT… Continue by adding an “I” message. Say “but, I would feel more comfortable in this situation if we had just another opinion – maybe from a specialist in this disorder”
  3. Then ask him or her for help - which lets the doctor know you still value his or her advice - by saying something like “could you recommend a specialist for us?”
  4. Thank the doctor and suggest a follow up to compare notes from the second opinion.

Situations that Call for a Second Opinion

  • Any time a surgery is suggested, it may be a great time to have the case re-evaluated. While the surgery itself may still need to happen, different doctors may approach it differently or have different tools or methods that can impact recovery time.  You may find, however, there are instances where your second opinion may reveal that physical therapy or some less invasive option is available.
  • If you feel that a diagnosis is not quite right or you have concerns that your doctor may not be up-to-date in treating your parent's problem. For instance, a general practitioner may be great for day-to-day problems, but may have limited perspective and education on dementia. Some disorders benefit from early intervention and if your doctor misses it, you may have missed an opportunity to help slow the progression of the disease. Asking for a specialist to be involved really makes sense when there is a diagnosis of a new disorder or when you feel your doctor may be missing signs.
  • If the medications are not working out or if you feel too many are being prescribed, it is a good time to have another doctor or a pharmacist help you do a “medication check.” This is where you look at all the pills being taken to make sure side effects and dangerous drug interactions are not occurring. Also, it is a good time to list all medicines along with why they are being taken. It is not uncommon to find people taking medications for a problem they no longer have!  Your original doctor may not realize you are still taking a medication that is no longer needed.
  • If you are suspicious that your doctor is misdiagnosing a problem or may not be particularly competent, it is time to get another eye on the patient. Sometimes, we are suspicious but incorrect - and the second opinion will put our anxiety to rest. But, sometimes, our intuition is right on target and our little voice telling us something is wrong can be very accurate. Don’t ignore that feeling and let your loved one’s care slide. If you have a concern, there is no harm in seeking further information.

A second opinion can be a lifesaver and it can also be great validation that your current doctor is really on the ball. Either way, you win. Again, if it upsets your original doctor, it can also be a timely sign that a change in physicians is warranted anyway. You really cannot lose.


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