8 Questions to Ask During a Spine Second Opinion

September 7, 2023
Dr. Mark Wang is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He dedicates his full attention to working together with his patients to identify their pain source and find the least invasive treatment that works for them.
8 Questions to Ask During a Spine Second Opinion

If you’re considering getting a second opinion on your spinal condition, make sure to do your homework, research online and ask around to find the best spine surgeon. Remember that the goal of a second opinion is to clarify and determine if your diagnosis is accurate and the best treatment option — nonsurgical or surgical. 

If you decide to pursue a second opinion, keep an open mind and prepare a set of questions to ask when you meet with the surgeon. Assuming that your diagnosis is accurate and surgery is recommended, we suggest asking the following questions before back surgery. 

1. Is Your Surgeon Confirming or Changing the Diagnosis and Treatment Plan? 

Often a diagnosis and the proper treatment recommendation can differ from one surgeon’s opinion to the second surgeon’s view. In a recent study, diagnoses differed 59.8% of the time from the first to the second opinion. Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to selecting the right treatment option. However, studies have shown that treatment options for the same diagnosis differ from the first to the second opinion, which is why you’re not insulting your surgeon if you ask for a second opinion. 

2. What if the Second Opinion Diagnosis and Treatment Recommendation Are Different?

Suppose the second opinion surgeon gives the exact diagnosis and recommends surgery. You can then focus on that surgeon’s experience, professionalism and skill. However, this is not always a common scenario. If the diagnosis is the same, your surgeon may offer no surgery or a different surgical treatment option. 

Ask the surgeon to weigh the pros and cons of the recommendation options and why they think their opinion is better for you and your quality of life. If you still have doubts after the second opinion, consider pursuing a third opinion.

3. Should I Get a Third Opinion?

A second opinion often differs from the first opinion. When a diagnosis differs or treatment options seem too aggressive, it may be necessary to get a third opinion. The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain. Next, seek the most effective surgical procedure with the least physical impact on your lifestyle that leads you back to work and play the soonest. Always do your research and keep an open mind to prevent you from having unrealistic expectations. 

4. What Are the Surgeon’s Outcomes With the Recommended Surgery? 

Each surgical procedure has benefits and outcomes for treating a painful spine. Your surgeon should be able to explain their experience and outcomes for each surgery they recommend. Not every procedure is always the best way to treat a specific diagnosis. There are preferred surgical options and new, technologically advanced surgeries or less invasive ones. 

Research and explore all options to ensure you are getting the least invasive yet most effective procedure that allows you to return to work and play as soon as possible.

5. Are There Any Alternative Treatment Procedures or Surgery for the Proposed Surgery?

The surgeon’s experience and training usually dictate what types of surgeries they offer. Many surgeons seek additional training when there are advances in surgical techniques and technology. However, many surgeons are creatures of habit and either don’t adapt or adapt slowly to new procedures. 

Suppose your first surgeon offers a spine fusion, which you think is too aggressive. You may research and find some alternative surgical options to spinal fusion, hoping your second-opinion surgeon offers these. Beware of your surgeon downplaying new advancements as experimental. Just because they don’t provide that surgery doesn’t always mean it may not work for you.

6. What Could Happen With My Condition if I Elect Not to Have Surgery?

Other than dealing with the constant pain from not having surgery, some cases could worsen. Knowing the worst-case scenario and risks associated with choosing not to have surgery is essential.

7. What Are the Associated Risks and Possible Complications of the Surgery?

Setting realistic expectations involves thoroughly understanding all the risks and complications of a specific spine surgery. Approaching surgery with peace of mind and a positive attitude can lead to a better outcome.

8. What Is the Plan if the Surgery Does Not Work or Does Not Provide Relief? 

Unfortunately, not all surgeries go as planned. Managing your expectations and understanding a surgeon’s expectations are key to patient outcomes. One study found that after one-year post-surgery, the patient satisfaction rates were 78%. 

The pain you experience after surgery may be due to a separate pain generator. While you may have received some pain relief after surgery, there is yet another pain generator in addition to the one your surgeon corrected. In this case, it is vital to have a thorough workup, history and pain management diagnostic injections to determine the most accurate diagnosis.

Red Flags to Consider When Getting a Second Opinion

If you notice any of the following red flags when asking questions before spinal fusion surgery, you may want to reconsider getting treatment at the practice:

  • The opinion and treatment plan sounds too good to be true or claims to cure your pain completely. 
  • The recommended intervention is advertised directly to the consumer or the practice claims to be the “ONLY practice that offers this procedure.”
  • The procedure is touted as painless — all surgeries have pain associated with them.
  • The online reviews are lackluster. It is not uncommon for a few patients to be unsatisfied and scornful, especially if there are unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings. However, multiple one-star reviews by patients with similar complaints present a red flag.
Virtual Second Opinion Benefits

Virtual Second Opinion Benefits

When you are facing a difficult decision about your spine and quality of life, a virtual second opinion from the Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) provides access to our expertise to assist you in important care decisions. Our program allows you to personally connect with our world-renowned spine surgeons from the convenience of your home.

A virtual second opinion offers the following benefits:

  • Expert opinions from DISC surgeons
  • Time and cost-saving online services offered in the United States and internationally.
  • Up-to-date educational resources about vast spinal conditions and advanced treatment options
  • Convenient, expert insight into your painful spinal condition
  • Peace of mind when you need it most

The Most Important Questions to Ask During a Virtual Second Opinion Appointment

If you have a limited amount of time in your virtual second opinion appointment, you’ll want to focus on getting answers to your most pressing concerns. The following four questions are most essential to ask during a virtual second opinion appointment: 

  1. Does the surgeon agree or disagree with the original diagnosis and treatment plan, and why?
  2. What is the surgeon’s diagnosis and recommended course of action?
  3. If the surgeon recommends an operation, what are the procedure’s associated risks and possible complications?
  4. Are there any alternatives to the surgeon’s proposed treatment method?

The answers to these questions will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about spinal treatment. 

Schedule a Virtual Second Opinion With DISC and Get Back to Enjoying Life Again!

Schedule a Virtual Second Opinion With DISC and Get Back to Enjoying Life Again!

If you are interested in receiving a second opinion or looking to travel for less invasive surgery, our expert spine surgeons in Phoenix, Arizona, can help you gain peace of mind and get you back to enjoying life. Our back and neck specialists are recognized leaders in minimally invasive spinal procedures. Our patients speak volumes about our compassionate and highly skilled surgeons, with over 6,000 reviews and an overall rating of 4.8 stars. Learn more about scheduling a virtual second opinion.

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