Skip Navigation

Getting a second opinion before surgery

A second opinion is when a doctor other than your regular doctor gives you his or her view about your health problem and how to treat it. It can help you make a more informed decision about your care.

When your doctor says you have a health problem that needs surgery, you have the right to:

  • Know and understand your treatment choices
  • Have another doctor look at those choices with you (second opinion)
  • Participate in treatment decisions by making your wishes known

Find out when a second opinion is covered.

When to get a second opinion

  • If your doctor says you need surgery to diagnose or treat a health problem that isn't an emergency. It's up to you to decide when and if you'll have surgery.
  • If your doctor tells you that you should have certain kinds of major non-surgical procedures. Medicare doesn't pay for surgeries or procedures that aren't medically necessary, like cosmetic surgery. This means that Medicare won't pay for second opinions for surgeries or procedures that aren't medically necessary.
Note

Don't wait for a second opinion if you need emergency surgery. Some emergencies may require surgery right away— like for accidental injuries, acute appendicitis, or for a blood clot or aneurysm.  

Finding a doctor for a second opinion

  • Make sure the doctor giving the second opinion accepts Medicare. Find a doctor that accepts Medicare.
  • Ask your doctor for the name of another doctor to see for a second opinion. Don't hesitate to ask—most doctors want you to get a second opinion.
  • You can also ask another doctor you trust to recommend a doctor.
  • Ask your local medical society for the names of doctors who treat your illness or injury. Your local library can help you find your local medical society.

What to do when you get a second opinion

Before you visit the second doctor, you may want to:

  • Ask your doctor to send your medical records to the doctor giving the second opinion. That way, you may not have to repeat the tests you already had. Also, call the second doctor's office and make sure they got your records.
  • Write down a list of questions to take with you to the appointment.
  • Ask a friend or loved one to go to the appointment with you.

During the visit with the second doctor, you may want to:

  • Tell the doctor what surgery you're considering.
  • Tell the doctor what tests you already had.
  • Ask the questions you have on your list and encourage your friend or loved one to ask any questions that he or she may have.  
Note

The second doctor may ask you to get additional tests as a result of the visit. Medicare will help pay for these tests just as it helps pay for other services that are medically necessary.

What if the first & second opinions are different?

If the second doctor doesn't agree with the first, you may feel unsure what to do. In that case, you may want to:

  • Talk more about your condition with your first doctor.
  • Talk to a third doctor. Medicare helps pay for a third opinion.

Getting a second opinion doesn't mean you have to change doctors. You choose which doctor you want to do your surgery.