What's the importance of a second opinion?

The choice to undergo cervical spine surgery is a big decision. Many cervical spine conditions respond to noninvasive treatments and surgery is usually considered only when other medical treatments fail to relieve the symptoms (or if the symptoms worsen). If a doctor or surgeon has recommended that you undergo cervical spine surgery, it is a good idea to get a second opinion.

Surgeons have different ways of treating conditions of the cervical spine and you should be sure that all viable nonsurgical treatment options have been tried before proceeding to surgery. When you obtain a second opinion, your medical records will be reviewed to see what treatments have been used and how you responded to each. Receiving a second opinion from another surgeon helps explore all options and confirms that none have been overlooked.

Another reason to seek a second opinion before cervical spine surgery is to be sure you have received the correct diagnosis. The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) commissioned a phone survey in 1997 to review patient opinions about medical mistakes. Of the people reporting a medical mistake (42%), 40% reported a "misdiagnosis or treatment error". Respondents also reported that their doctor failed to make an adequate diagnosis in 9% of cases, and 8% cited misdiagnosis as a primary causal factor in the medical mistake.

Despite using the best imaging studies, some spinal conditions can still be difficult to diagnose. Even when surgeons agree on the diagnosis, not all agree on when surgery should be performed. Some are more conservative and want to allow nonsurgical treatments more time to work, provided the situation is not critical. When you obtain a second opinion before cervical surgery, the surgeon will review the imaging studies and your chart with fresh eyes. He will then advise you of his opinion regarding the surgery. He may recommend an untried nonsurgical treatment or even suggest an alternative diagnosis.

There are various types of surgeries to treat conditions of the cervical spine. A second opinion increases the likelihood that you have been provided with your best surgical options involving the least amount of recovery time. A second opinion may be particularly helpful if a previous surgery for your condition was unsuccessful.

Furthermore, you should have confidence in the surgeon performing your surgery. If you feel uncomfortable with your diagnosis, are hesitant about the treatment, or have doubts regarding your doctor, you deserve a second opinion. A good surgeon will take the time to answer all of your questions and address any concerns you may have. You should come away from the appointment understanding why the surgery is being recommended, what the benefits will be, as well as the potential risks involved.

Receiving a second opinion is smart before any surgery, especially surgery that involves the cervical spine. Surgery is a big step, and the recovery can be slow and potentially painful. You should understand your surgical options, be confident that you have chosen the one that’s best for you, and be comfortable with the surgeon. A second opinion can help ensure you make the right decisions.

Tom Wascher M.D. is available to offer second opinions regarding cervical spine surgery. He will review your imaging studies free of charge and give you the benefit of his expertise. He has performed over 1800 cervical surgeries during his career and wants to see that you receive the best treatment possible. He is a competent and caring surgeon who has your best interests in mind.