How Many Opinions Are Too Many?

(Editor’s Note: Today, we welcome a guest post from Crystal Fornes, a nurse practitioner and patient advocate with more than 10 years of experience.)

In my work as a nurse and healthcare navigator, family caregivers tell me they want solid opinions and more concrete explanations from their caree’s doctors. They want to make the best decisions for themselves and their carees, especially after a scary diagnosis.

Multiple opinions, however necessary, can be confusing and conflicting. So how many medical opinions should you realistically get? And, can you have too many?

The short answer is: Sometimes.

But, to better answer those questions, here are five ways to help you decide when it’s time to stop asking around and starting making decisions.

1. Ask the “What” Questions First

When meeting with the doctor after receiving the initial diagnosis, be prepared to ask the right questions. Be sure you, your caree (if appropriate) and the doctor communicate well and listen to each other. Ask questions like, “Doctor, what do you know about this?” Or, “What other possibilities might the symptoms suggest?”

2. Usually, You Should Seek at Least Two Opinions

Once your caree has been diagnosed, you both have some decisions to make. If treatments for the diagnosis will require difficult or invasive treatment, such as surgery, chemo, radiation or a lifetime drug regimen, you should plan to get a second opinion, regardless of how well you, your caree and the first doctor communicate. If doctor No. 1 is a good doctor, he or she will support that step and will provide you with copies of any needed records and test results. If the doctor resists, or suggests you don’t need another opinion, then it’s a great clue that you do.

3. After a Second Opinion, You Have Three Options

Three things will happen after your caree’s diagnosis. Either your doctor will confirm the first doctor’s findings and treatment recommendations, or she will confirm the findings, and then suggest a different treatment, or she may dispute the diagnosis all together.

  • If the two doctors agree, then you probably do not need another opinion unless you have some other evidence that they may be wrong. That other evidence should be substantial, not just wishful thinking on your part.
  • If the two doctors provide the same diagnosis but suggest different treatments, then be sure you understand their reasons for those differing suggestions, and do some research. If you’re not feeling up to doing the research yourself, or feel you need some guidance, then contact a care coordinator who can help you better understand your options.
  • If the doctors disagree on your diagnosis, then you’ll need a tie-breaker. Find a third-opinion doctor to confirm (hopefully) one of the first two diagnoses.

4. Confirmation Is Key

Confirmation is necessary if your first and second opinion doctors disagree. So often patients choose one of the first two diagnoses based on which treatment they prefer. This could mean they don’t get the treatment that is best for them.

Do you need more opinions? Probably not, unless the third doctor provides yet a third diagnosis or you have evidence that they are all wrong.

5. Consider a Professional Care Coordinator

If you are at all concerned about needing more opinions or answers, then have someone else take an objective look at your healthcare situation, such as a care coordinator or case manager. You can hire a care coordinator to help you understand your situation so you can make the best decisions for your caree and your family.

About the Author: Crystal Fornes is a nurse practitioner and patient advocate with over 10 years of experience. She also is helping Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor of NBC News, start CarePlanners, a company that gives patients and caregivers better decision-making tools as they navigate the healthcare system with one-on-one support and personalized technology.


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2 Comments on "How Many Opinions Are Too Many?"

Profile photo of
Apr 5, 2012

Really good advice! Thanks, Crystal!

Profile photo of Roaring Mouse
Apr 6, 2012


These are great points! My additional question has always been though, how many patients (that you’ve seen) have been through this process, how many were successful and how many times didn’t it work. For my husband and I the latter point is the most important. In reality we don’t care about the amount…it is a test question as to the doctor’s ability to be honest about a situation. We want to know all the “risks” because if something is not identified ahead of time…then it could be deadly later on…first hand experience taught us this.

Again, great questions and great advice!