Should you get a second opinion? "If you're asking yourself this question, it's usually a good idea," says Jonathan L. Schaffer, MD, MBA, an orthopaedic arthroplasty surgeon in Cleveland Clinic's Orthopaedic and Rheumatologic Institute. Schaffer also serves as the managing director of Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult program, which enables people from all over the country, and even the world, to request a second opinion online, often from a multidisciplinary team of experts.

A Unique Second Opinion Option
According to Schaffer, the MyConsult program began more than a decade ago in response to an outpouring of requests from people who wanted to have Cleveland Clinic physicians look at their medical records to confirm the diagnosis and that they were taking the most effective treatment approach.

"This remote program isn't for every diagnosis," Schaffer points out adding it's reserved for patients with certain illnesses and who have objective information to enable our doctors to assist in determining the best course of action without needing to see the patient personally. At the present time, about 1,200 diagnoses out of a possible 6,000 qualify to be reviewed long distance, but more are being added all of the time.

Other well-known facilities, such as Johns Hopkins, offer similar remote second opinion options for limited diagnoses, helping to remove the geographic barriers that often prevent people from getting the best care.

Finding A Second-Opinion Doctor Locally
Of course, second opinions for almost every diagnosis can also be found closer to home, too. To find a second opinion doctor in your area that you can visit in person, Schaffer suggests asking family members, friends, or co-workers for a recommendation.

Schaffer suggests conducting your own research online to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and treatment options. Sometimes a web search can lead to an expert in your area. But be sure to ask any doctor you're considering how much experience he has treating patients with similar diagnoses and what the outcomes—and complications—of the recommended treatment, have been in their practice.

Preparing For A Second Opinion Visit
To prepare for your second opinion visit, you'll need to have your regular doctor send your medical records to the second opinion doctor so he can review them and offer you his educated opinion. During the appointment, ask if he agrees with the prior doctor's diagnosis, whether he agrees with the treatment protocol, and if there are any other issues you should be considering.

Insurance Matters
Often, your insurance carrier will cover the face-to-face second opinion visit. To avoid surprises later, call in advance to find out exactly what's covered under your plan. You'll also need to make sure that the second opinion doctor participates in your health plan's network. If not, you'll be responsible for some or all of the expenses yourself.

Weighing Second-Opinion Costs
In the case of the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins remote programs, Schaffer advises that most insurance providers won't cover the cost, which might range from about $565 for the consult and another $180 if additional services are required (i.e. pathology or radiology interpretation).  Many corporations cover the Cleveland Clinic's program as a health care benefit, so check with your Human Resources department.  But for people grappling with a serious illness, investing in the price of getting a second opinion-either online or face-to-face from a local expert--can be well worth it when you consider the peace of mind that you'll get in return.

Jonathan Schaffer, MD, MBA reviewed this article.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Medical Second Opinion Program at Johns Hopkins. N.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Mayo Clinic. "Cancer Diagnosis? Advice for Dealing With What Comes Next." 15 July 2011. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Schaffer, Jonathan L. MD, MBA, Managing Director, e ClevelandClinic,
Information Technology Division; Center for Joint Reconstruction
Orthopaedic and Rheumatologic Institute. Phone interview 11 Jan. 2013.