Back and neck pain are common medical concerns and often patients may be advised to seek surgical treatments. A second opinion can be very valuable if you have been recommended a major operation like spine surgery. Today, orthopedic-specific telemedicine platforms such as MoonlightOrtho.com have eased the process of getting a second opinion in orthopedic spine patients.

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Spinal Surgery – Benefits of Seeking a Second Opinion

Patients facing a new diagnosis from an Orthopedic or Neuro Spine Surgeon, particularly those who have been advised spine surgery, may consider seeking a second opinion. Getting an additional viewpoint can help clear confusion about the diagnosis and provide exposure to additional treatment options/recommendations. In general, getting a second opinion on a complex diagnosis such as a spinal diagnosis (neck or back pain) helps you become a more informed patient, compare treatments that you are offered and their potential outcomes, and make a decision about having a potentially costly or even risky treatment, surgical or otherwise.

Spine surgery is a major operation and can have life-long effects on patients, both positively and negatively. It can reduce pain and improve quality of life, but often comes with risk of needing additional surgery. While your surgeon can recommend surgery, going ahead is usually a personal decision that you have to make. Patients should get all the information they need, to make the most informed decision possible.

Neck or Back surgery may be recommended if conservative treatments like spinal injections and physical therapy have failed to work. Patients with pain that is persistent and disabling are referred to an Orthopedic or Neuro Spine Surgeon. Conditions for which spine surgery may be recommended include: a slipped disc that does not heal, overgrowth of bone pushing on a nerve root, spinal stenosis, a broken or dislocated vertebra, and a tumor on or around the spinal cord.

Seeking a second opinion from another surgeon may offer many benefits. Seeking another opinion can confirm the need for surgery or prevent potentially unnecessary surgery. In fact, occasionally a second opinion can provide treatment options that may eliminate the need for unnecessary invasive procedures or surgery.

Seeking multiple spine surgery opinions helps patients understand and compare their treatment options, and make an informed decision. There are different surgical approaches for spinal conditions. The traditional technique involves open surgery which involves making a long incision to view and access the operative site. However, some spinal conditions may also be treated using minimally-invasive techniques that do not require long incisions or open manipulation of the spine muscle and tissue.

The second opinion may not be the best one for you. However, by getting another medical viewpoint, you can play an active role in making a decision about your treatment.

When to Get a Second Opinion on Neck or Back Surgery

In a study on the value of “another” opinion for spinal surgery published in Surg Neurol Int. in 2012, the author collected data regarding 240 consecutive patients seeking a surgical opinion regarding a spine problem over a period of 14 months. The study found that some patients seek multiple opinions simply because they cannot “face the truth about their problem or because they have various anxieties which prevent them from making a definitive decision about their treatment”. About 65% of the 240 patients were seeking a second, third, or fourth surgical opinion (155 patients). The majority (131) were seeking second opinion. Patients who sought a third or fourth opinion did so either because:

  • They had a complicated surgical problem for which multiple different treatment options were available, or
  • They hoped to get a recommendation for no surgery (since they did not wish to have surgery)

So, when should one seek a second opinion for spine surgery? According to Spine-Health, it would be advisable to do so in the following situations:

  • You are not comfortable with your initial surgeon of consult.
  • You do not get satisfactory answers to your questions about a proposed treatment from the surgeon.
  • You disagree with your surgeon’s opinion that surgery is your only option, and you want to avoid surgery.
  • You suspect that the initial referral may not be the best.
  • You have already had neck or back surgery, it did not work and more extensive surgery is recommended.
  • To get a confirmatory opinion prior to proceeding with surgery – in this case, it may be best to allow the treating physician to choose the surgeon for the second opinion.

Today, orthopedic-specific telemedicine practices such as MoonlightOrtho.com help patients get an online second opinion quickly, by a board certified and Fellowship trained Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. The surgeon can provide a high quality virtual consultation to suit the patient’s time schedule, and from the comfort of any location the patient chooses.