Is it a must to get a second opinion when it comes to surgery?


With so many americans suffering from chronic pain, you would think 2nd opinions where 2nd nature.  But statistics show that not even half of those who suffer get a second opinion with issues with the back.

Second opinion results from the Chronic Back Pain in America 2015 survey

I was in the category that I trusted what my doctor said and. didn’t feel the need to get a second opinion.  Boy, was I wrong.  I trusted the doctor to put in an artificial disc, thinking it would cure-all my problems.  When in reality, it caused 2 more back surgery and more to come. If I could do it all over again, I would have gotten a second opinion and maybe even a third.

So how do you know that you should have a second opinion?  Here is a few things that should be considered before getting a second opinion when surgery is on the line.

  • Certainly if you are not comfortable with the first physician for any reason, then seeing another surgeon for an opinion is a good idea.
  • If a surgeon cannot answer questions about the rationale for a proposed procedure or is vague on the surgical plan, another opinion is a good idea.
  • If your personal goals are different from the surgeon’s, e.g. if you really want to avoid surgery to treat your pain, and the surgeon is saying that surgery is really your only option.
  • If you suspect that the initial referral was made on the basis of economic interests rather than who is best suited for your surgery, go for another opinion. (Referring physicians tend to favor local surgeons who will do the surgery in a local facility, especially if they are in a multi-specialty clinic. This is not saying that these physicians are not capable, but that there is a possibility that the first referral one receives may not be the best.)
  • It is also good to get a second opinion if the initial back surgery did not work and another surgery is being proposed. This advice is especially true if it involves fusing further segments of the spine. Often, if the initial fusion surgery does not work, further surgery will not be helpful. Only in very specific circumstances (i.e. pseudarthrosis) is further surgery likely to be beneficial.
  • There are times when a surgeon will ask a patient to get a confirmatory opinion prior to proceeding with surgery. In these cases, it is often best to let the treating surgeon pick the source for the second opinion, as they are best able to determine whose opinion they would value.

Once you have decided that a second opinion is a must to you, here are some questions that I asked my second doctor, who is now my main orthopedic surgeon

  1. How common of a surgery is this for this surgeon to perform monthly.  obviously, this will be a general number.  Take that into consideration.
  2. Ask the surgeon what is his experience with your disease or illness.  Specifically anything to do with your surgery.
  3. What is the general outcome from this surgery and what does he expect for you.
  4. Does he feel that there is any alternative treatments that you can do besides surgery.
  5. What does he project to be your healing time/recovery.  Compare this with your first opinion.  Are they similar?
  6. What is the exact risk and complications that he feels is associated with this surgery.  Also compare this to your previous surgeon.
  7. What is he  suggesting that can be done if this surgery fails.  What other treatments could then work.
  8. What is his timetable for follow-up appointments.  Know this prior to surgery so you aren’t left in the dark wondering how long you will need to follow-up with him.  Some surgeons is 3 months. Others is 6-9 months.
  9. Ask any questions that brings you fear about the surgery now.  You don’t want to wait till the morning of and you can’t remember all your questions.
  10. What is his and his assistant’s office hours.  You need to know if you are at home recovering on a Friday night, how does someone get a hold of him if there is a situation that can’t wait till Monday morning.
  11. What is his refill request routine?  Again, you don’t want to be without on the weekend but you need to plan for this too.
  12. How many days will you be in the hospital and when will he be seeing you. You will probably deal with the nurses more but you will need to talk to him after the surgery, after the heavy medicines have worn off.
  13. Ask him is there physical therapy after the surgery.
  14. What medicines not to take the day of the surgery.

A lot of these questions will be answered and probably on a piece of paper.  And some of these questions won’t apply until you have chosen  him as your surgeon.  But it’s always good to ask and get a feel for that doctor’s bedside manner is and if you like it.  My surgeon is so amazing to talk with and never makes me feel stupid or inadequate.  Even if I ask the same question twice, he answers it and then tells me to write it down.  He knows me that well since I have been with him for 6 years. He has never once forced me or told me he wouldn’t treat me if I didn’t do what he was recommending.  He always tells me to think about it, get a second opinion and talk to my husband about it.  Not once have I been forced to do anything. I feel like I can talk to him like he is a friend and he knows my fears.  After all, he’s going to see you in a way most people don’t, your insides.  Do yourself a favor and find a doctor, whether it takes 3 or 10 different doctors, and fin that one that you connect with.  Because trust me, that makes all the difference in the world.


Anyone in the Denver area and needs a good orthopedic spine surgeon, please email me at

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