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Should You Get a Second Opinion Before Spine Surgery?

March 2, 2018
Dr. Francis Gamache Jr., MD, a neurosurgeon in New York, New York, at the Hospital for Special Surgery conducted a 14-month study involving 240 patients with neck and back conditions seeking a second opinion on a spine problem that may require surgery. Of that number, “155 (65 percent) came for a second, third, or fourth surgical opinion following an earlier opinion from a surgeon who recommended an operation.” Patients in the study group also cited that having a second opinion for spine surgery was “very helpful.” If you’re unclear as to what constitutes a second opinion, it’s defined as this: seeking a consultation to get advice from a doctor other than your primary health care physician to get input on a diagnosis and its treatment plan with the goal of making a fully informed decision regarding your health.

In this article

Why You Need a Second Opinion

When your physician tells you that you need to have spine surgery, it’s important that you seek a second opinion from an expert spine surgeon or other health care professional. A second opinion will often give you peace of mind if any of the following is concerning to you as a patient:
    • The cost of back surgery versus risk of back surgery and potential complications
    • You lack clarity about the surgical option you were presented
    • You want to know what options you have and what those treatment plans encompass
    • You don't feel good about your diagnosis or the severity of it.
Dr. Stephen Dante, a neurosurgeon at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an advocate for second opinions and strongly encourages his patients to seek second opinions. He says patients need the ability to make informed decisions while feeling confident in their final choice. Dante also believes that patients should also have confidence in their doctor's experience. “Part of what we need to do as providers is make sure that patients have a sense of confidence and good communication. Surgery is a big step, and patients should feel empowered to take charge of their recovery, to feel proactive,” Dante says.

How to Seek a Second Opinion

While it may be tempting to not let your doctor know that you’re seeking a second opinion whether you feel it may affect your relationship or he or she may not accept your decision, it’s important to keep your doctor informed. Dr. Jerome Groopman, author of Second Opinions: Stories of Intuition and Choice in the Changing World of Medicine says, One, you need all the medical records … to give to whoever is giving the second opinion. Two, you want the experts to discuss in an open way what the areas of agreement and disagreement are. If you don't tell your doctor because you're afraid you're going to insult him, it's hard to get the records together and communicate.” Health care insurance provider Cigna agrees and add that patients should “ask [their] doctors for the name of another expert, someone with whom he or she is not closely connected. Explain that this is how you like to make big medical decisions. Don't worry about offending your doctor. Second opinions are expected.” If letting your doctor know about your desire for a second opinion was difficult or uncomfortable for you, check with your insurance company or inquire at the nearest hospital. You’ll want to make sure that whichever medical center you select that spinal surgeries are routinely performed there. You can also consider receiving a second opinion from a health care professional with a different background, like chiropractic or physical therapy. One thing to keep in mind is that it is best practice for you get a consultation with a health expert outside of your current health system. “Institutional cultures are real, and often an opinion leader at one hospital will do things a certain way and others at that institution will conform to that viewpoint,” says Groopman. “But at another hospital, even across town, there may be a very different philosophy.”

What to Do After Your Second Opinion

Once you have received your second opinion on spine or back surgery and it falls exactly or closely in line with your doctor’s original diagnosis, schedule an appointment to talk with your physician about what your next steps are, particularly if your diagnosis involves spinal surgery. If your diagnosis or treatment plan from the medical professional who rendered your second opinion is vastly different than the first, you may want to seek a third consultation. In some instances, however, the diagnosis is identical, and the treatment plan may vary. In this case, you’ll want to speak with your primary care doctor about both opinions to find out which method will best benefit you. Betty Long, RN, MHA says that often, patients view second opinions as a method to confirm or deny the diagnosis. She says that while sometimes a diagnosis is certain, you have the authority to question the treatment plan. “You are in charge of your own healthcare. It may not feel like it sometimes, but you are the owner of the team, the CEO of the business,” says Long, who recommends gathering information and making an informed decision for your own health based on what your two health care professionals have recommended. “It doesn’t have to be the decision that your brother will make, or your best friend, or even your spouse or partner. It has to be the right one for you.”

How BackerNation’s Wellness Coaches Simplify The Process

If you’re among those who finds starting the process of getting a second opinion to be intimidating, BackerNation has a program designed to help you navigate the waters with so that you can confidently make the right decision for yourself, as well as assist you in locating a spine surgeon who can perform your surgery, if necessary. Our expert team of back wellness coaches is composed of health professionals who specialize in neck, back, and spine pain treatment. Because your back pain affects more than your bulging disc or your SI joint or your sciatic nerve, membership gives you instant access to nutritionists, chiropractors, physical therapists, mental health professionals, massage therapists, and other specialists who can review your diagnosis and give you actionable next steps. You don’t have to visit a doctor’s office either. Our wellness coaches work virtually and can help you right from your home. When you contact a BackerNation back wellness coach, you have the ability to email, text, or chat your coach 24/7/365. You can ask them all of the questions you may be uncomfortable asking your doctor, or any questions in general. You’ll get answers, support, and guidance. In addition to our coaches’ knowledge and expertise, BackerNation tap into an expert network of medical practitioners who are ready to see you overcome your back pain. Couple this with our ADR Surgeon Finder, and you get a full battery of support.

How to Use the ADR Surgeon Finder

If after your consultation with our back wellness coaches and your physician leads you towards artificial disc replacement surgery, our ADR Surgeon Finder is a helpful tool in your search for a local, regional, or national spine surgeon conduct your surgery. The surgeons listen within our system have a proven track record of successful artificial disc replacement surgeries. Here’s how it works:
    • Visit our ADR Surgery Finder page
    • Enter your zip code and choose your ideal radius (from Closest to Me to 200 miles) and click the Search button
    • Your results will populate to the right of a map which pinpoints the surgeon’s location (you may have to zoom out to see the markers).
    • You can choose to review the websites of the surgeons, call them, or click Make an Appointment to send the medical office your contact information to schedule your appointment.
That’s it. The ADR Surgeon Finder takes the stress of scouring Google for surgeons and puts qualified health practitioners right in front of you for easy vetting.


In a recent Mayo Clinic study, researchers found that 88 percent of patients who went to Mayo Clinic seeking a second opinion ended up changing their care plan after receiving a new or refined diagnosis. In that group, 21 percent got a new diagnosis altogether. “Effective and efficient treatment depends on the right diagnosis,” the study’s lead author, James Naessens, said in a statement. This means that as the patient, it’s up to you to make sure that you review your diagnosis with another physician and if you’re unsure how to begin that process, BackerNation’s back wellness coaches is a good start. Visit to learn more about the wellness coaches program. You can check out the ADR Surgeon Finder by visiting
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