Let's say your primary care doctor diagnoses you with a rare form of cancer, stages it and sets up an aggressive treatment plan, including a few major surgeries in addition to chemotherapy. You're hesitant: Are things really this far along, and is this the only treatment option you have? Maybe, but maybe not. And to find out — or maybe it's just to give yourself (or your insurance company) peace of mind — you seek out a second (or third; we're not judging) opinion.
Second opinions can be valuable. It turns out that as many as 30 percent of patients who have gotten a second opinion about an elective surgery found the two doctors didn't agree with each other [source: Patient Advocate Foundation]. But ER doctors aren't the right choice for that second opinion. Emergency department teams aren't equipped with the time and resources to re-diagnose you — they're there for immediate treatment of life-threatening symptoms, not to ease your mind about a surgery that won't take place for several weeks (or months, or maybe never). Specialists, such as oncologists or surgeons, or another primary care doctor are better able to perform a thorough work up, including all the necessary lab work and tests to complete the puzzle and either agree or disagree with the other diagnosis.