Second opinion: when can a second medical opinion be sought?

Deciding whether or not to have an operation is not always easy. Often, it is not immediately fully clear whether the advantages outweigh the drawbacks or vice-versa. A second medical opinion can be useful when making a decision. A legally regulated right to a second opinion exists in relation to certain schedulable operations. 

At a glance

  • People with statutory health insurance are entitled to a second medical opinion before certain, frequently conducted, schedulable operations.
  • The second opinion should help patients make a decision and avoid unnecessary operations.
  • The legally regulated procedure in relation to a second opinion is subject to specific conditions and can only be used by certain medical specialists.
  • Regardless of this, people with statutory health insurance have a right to freely choose their doctor and can thus always ask a second doctor for advice.
Doctor sitting at a desk using the fingers of both hands to type on a computer keyboard.

What is a second opinion?

There is more than just one treatment option for many health conditions. Even surgery often has alternatives. If your doctor advises you to have surgery, you can obtain a second medical opinion. This gives you a better basis on which to make your decision.

To make decisions easier, people with statutory health insurance can obtain a second medical opinion in relation to certain operations.

If you have statutory health insurance, you are entitled to a specific procedure before certain schedulable operations. Within the scope of such a second opinion procedure, doctors who specialize in the area provide an opinion based on the findings and a consultation with you. The health insurance provider assumes the costs. 

Important: If you have statutory health insurance, you have a right to freely choose your doctor. Irrespective of the second opinion procedure, you can thus ask different doctors for advice by providing them with a copy of your patient record. 

How does the second opinion procedure benefit patients?

As a patient, the second opinion procedure should offer you better conditions for assessing whether a planned operation is the best treatment option for your personal situation. After all, all treatment options have their pros and cons. The second opinion should help you make the right decision for you. This decision also depends on your personal situation and individual wishes.

Why is it important to consider all options before surgery?

Comparisons have revealed that doctors give very different advice and also often represent different points of view. This means, for example, one doctor may clearly advise quick surgery, while another may be more cautious. But both may have good reasons for their respective positions.

It should be added that some patients shy away from questioning medical recommendations. The second opinion procedure offers you the opportunity to get detailed information and compare the respective arguments.

An advantage offered by the legally regulated second opinion procedure is that the doctors providing the second opinion must specialize in the medical area in question. The procedure also guarantees that doctors are expressing their opinion independently of economic interests: they are not allowed to work in the same practice or clinic as the doctor who provided the initial opinion. They also must not be employed in the hospital where the surgery is to take place.

For which operations can a second opinion be sought?

The procedure for obtaining a second opinion currently applies to the following operations:

  • womb removal
  • tonsillectomy
  • arthroscopy of the shoulders
  • knee joint replacement
  • amputation of a diabetic foot
  • certain types of spinal surgery
  • gallbladder removal
  • cardiac catheterization and sclerotherapy on the heart
  • implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator

The Federal Joint Committee (G-BA) decides which operations the second opinion procedure can be claimed for. This committee also establishes which guidelines apply to the second opinion and which requirements the doctors involved must comply with. 

A leaflet and information about the individual operations (decision-making aids) are available to patients to help them prepare for obtaining a second opinion. Your doctor must notify you about this information.

Important: Some statutory health insurance funds offer their members the option of seeking a second opinion from a specialist for other operations too. For example, these include operations on the spinal column, the knees and the hips.

How do I get a second opinion?

If a doctor has recommended one of the aforementioned operations to you, you generally have to be informed at least 10 days before the scheduled operation that you have a right to a second opinion.

If you would like to make use of this opportunity, you must contact a doctor who is authorized for the structured second opinion procedure. 

Qualified doctors can be found using our doctor search. But you can also make a request to your health insurance provider at any time. 

The doctor who is meant to give a second opinion requires your current documents like diagnostic findings and examination results. You can receive the necessary documents from your initial medical practice. Alternatively, you can have them sent directly from there to the second medical practice. Both options are free of charge for you. 

If further investigations are required for the second opinion, the doctor will discuss this with you.

What do I do with the second opinion?

If the doctor has reappraised and checked your case, he or she will provide the second opinion and discuss it with you. 

You are free to have the scheduled operation performed or to cancel it. You can get a written summary on request. You can also have the second opinion sent to your first medical practice.

If you are still unsure about what to do, it can help to openly discuss the different opinions with your doctor. 

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