In May 2015, Lorina Troy experienced one of the most devastating events a mother can go through: her children were removed from their home and placed in foster care. Lorina had two sons, one four years old and one five months old. The five-month-old, JJ, had been having issues with vomiting a lot and had a somewhat enlarged head. This eventually led to a misdiagnosis of child abuse and Child Protective Services (CPS) removing the children.
JJ and his older brother, Kainoa, were taken from Lorina and Jason by CPS for five months. Lorina says, “A day I would never forget was the day our kids were put in foster care. I sobbed uncontrollably, seeing my boys cry as the officials took them away. I missed my kids every single day. Our house became as quiet as a graveyard.” The boys were returned home but Jason Troy still faced two felony child abuse charges until 2017, when the family’s attorney found evidence of hydrocephalus in JJ’s medical records from the day he was born. Getting a second opinion might have prevented the entire episode with CPS and the legal system.
When should you get a second opinion?
There are a number of different situations when you might want to get a second opinion on your diagnosis or treatment plan. Most cases aren’t as extreme as the Troys’ situation. But it’s wise to consider getting a second opinion if you’re diagnosed with a serious, complex, or rare condition or if your doctor has recommended elective surgery like joint replacement or a hysterectomy.
What’s more, if the two doctors you see vastly disagree, then it might be wise to get a third opinion. Keep in mind, too, that the second opinion is not necessarily the right opinion. The key is to keep digging until the diagnosis and treatment make sense to you:
- Get a second opinion if you have undergone treatment but your symptoms continue.
- Get a second opinion if you are diagnosed with a rare disease.
- Get a second opinion if the recommended treatment is risky, involves surgery, is invasive or has lifelong consequences.
- Get a second opinion if you are diagnosed with cancer.
- Get a second opinion if your gut reaction tells you something is off.
The value of second opinions
Medical science is fast moving, and newer approaches may offer fewer side effects and shorter recovery time. Physicians’ training and experience with conditions and treatments vary. At the same time, medicine is not an exact science. Tests can be inconclusive and there can be different approaches that are both effective. A physician combines knowledge about medicine and about you, the individual, to guide treatment decisions.
How do you get a second opinion?
When getting a second opinion, follow these steps:
- Ask your health insurance company if it covers a second opinion. For some surgeries, it’s required.
- Schedule a visit with the second doctor. Give yourself enough time to arrange for your medical records to get there before your appointment.
- Have your first-opinion records sent ahead to the second doctor.
- Have the second doctor’s office send a report to your primary doctor, the one who manages all your care. This keeps all of your medical information in one place.
How do you use a second opinion?
When you have gathered the information you need, go over it with your primary care doctor or the specialist of your choice. Talk about how treatment choices might change your daily life, now and in the future. For testing choices, talk about how the results would be useful to you. If your doctors agree, your decision should be clearer. But sometimes doctors disagree. Even when doctors follow the same guidelines, there may be more than one treatment choice. Two doctors may have good, yet different, opinions about how to treat you.
If the doctors don’t agree, talk to your primary care doctor again. Can he or she help you with your decision? If not, and if you still wonder about other options, talk to a different kind of provider. For example, if you are thinking about back surgery, meet with two surgeons and talk to a physical therapist , a physiatrist (a doctor trained to help with recovery from surgery, injury, or stroke), or a doctor with experience in nonsurgical back care. You might learn about some nonsurgical, lower-risk choices you can try. Remember, the final choice is yours.
As for the Troy family, they are trying to heal from the trauma of separation, legal battles, and financial loss. Lorina has become an advocate for families like hers that have experienced devastating results from a child’s misdiagnosis. She lobbies lawmakers in Texas, California, and Washington D.C. to change laws on getting second medical opinions in instances like theirs. She has now written a book, titled “Miracles of Faith,” that goes into the details of her family’s journey through the medical and legal systems and how their faith saw them through it all.