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How Getting a Second Opinion for Joint Pain Can Help

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Posted by Eric J. Kropf, MD

Living with pain from a knee, hip, or shoulder injury or condition can have a negative effect on your quality of life. But there’s a lot to consider while you and your doctor are making treatment decisions. You may have been told medication and physical therapy is the way to go, or you might be considering surgery. Either way, it’s okay to seek a second opinion.

Learning as much information as you can about your joint condition and available treatment options will help you make an informed decision. Here, I take you through what you need to know about getting a second opinion, with questions you can ask during your second opinion appointment.

When to get a second opinion

Common reasons for getting a second opinion about your joint pain and treatment options include:

  • You still have questions about your joint pain or about your treatment recommendations, even after you’ve talked to your doctor.
  • You’re simply not sure your doctor’s treatment recommendation feels right for you.
  • Nonsurgical treatments aren’t enough to help ease your joint pain and even minimally invasive surgery seems like a huge step.
  • Your treatment goals are different than your doctor’s treatment goals.
  • You’ve heard about a promising new knee, hip or shoulder treatment, but your doctor doesn’t offer it yet.

In cases like these, go with your gut. Seek out another physician, or even two, to get an evaluation.

How to get a second opinion

1. Talk to your primary care physician

Start with your primary care physician when seeking a second opinion. Explain your situation, and request the name of one or two well-established joint specialists who can evaluate your condition with a fresh set of eyes.

2. Ask family and friends

Referrals often happen through word of mouth. If you have a family member or friend who had a similar knee, hip, or shoulder condition or injury, ask about their experience and get the name of the doctor who treated them.

3. Do your own research

Most hospital websites or orthopaedic practice websites feature the names and profiles of their physicians. Go to the website and navigate to the section where you can find a doctor or learn more about the physicians. Look for their experience in treating knee, hip or shoulder pain.

In addition to the doctor’s educational background, many hospital and provider practice websites showcase physician ratings and share special interests, experience and videos.

Once you select a doctor for your second opinion, check with your insurance company to ensure the doctor is in your network.

Questions you should ask during a second opinion appointment

It’s important to prepare for your appointment so that you can make the most of your visit.

Be sure to bring your medical records with you, along with results from any tests you may have had. This will give the second opinion doctor important background information to help guide treatment recommendations.

It may also be helpful to write down your questions and bring them to your appointment.

Some questions you may want to ask during your appointment include:

  1. Can you go into more detail about my condition or injury?
  2. What is your experience in treating this knee, hip or shoulder condition?
  3. Is there anything I need to consider when deciding on the best treatment for me?
  4. What treatments are available for this joint condition or injury?
  5. Why might I choose one treatment over another?
  6. What are the risks associated with the treatment?
  7. What happens if I decide not to proceed with treatment?
  8. How long can I expect the benefits of this treatment to last?
  9. What is the process for proceeding with this treatment?
  10. What does the recovery process look like?
  11. How long will it take to see results?

If you think you may not remember all of the information, take notes.

If your second opinion differs from the first recommendation

Sometimes the second recommendation will differ from the first, and that’s okay. If you’re ready to make a decision, consider the following:

1. What are your treatment goals for your knee, hip or shoulder pain?

Consider your own needs when deciding on treatment. For example, your doctor may recommend surgery, but you need to delay surgery until you can take time off work to heal.

Alternatively, if you’ve already tried nonsurgical methods and your doctor has recommended arthroscopic surgery, you may be ready to schedule the procedure immediately. Either way, make sure your choice aligns with your own goals.

2. Does one recommendation carry more risk than the other?

When it comes to joint pain, waiting to have a procedure may actually prevent healing — and this may be considered a risk for you. But there are also some risks associated with surgery for knee, hip or shoulder pain.

During your second opinion appointment, be sure you understand all of the risks associated with each treatment option — even the risk of putting off treatment.

3. Which treatment makes the most sense for you at this moment in your life?

There are so many things to consider when deciding on treatment for joint pain. Everyone’s situation is different, so it’s important that you take stock of your life, decide what feels right for you, and make sure you can commit to the treatment plan.

Getting a second opinion for knee, hip or shoulder pain is a smart choice, especially if you’re struggling to proceed with your doctor’s treatment plan. Remember, the most important member of your healthcare team is you.

Eric J. Kropf, MD

Dr. Kropf is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. He is Director of Sports Medicine, and Chair and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. His major clinical and research interests include evaluation and treatment of sports-related injuries in all age groups, specifically arthroscopic and minimally invasive surgery of the shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle and proximal hamstring repairs. In addition to having several publications to his credit, Dr. Kropf has given many presentations, both nationally and internationally, and is a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America as well as the International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports.

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