Health & Wellness, Living with Breast Cancer

Curbsides: the water cooler second opinions

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By Dr. Shelby Terstriep

August 5, 2013

In oncology, we get asked a lot about the need for second opinions from patients. It is often something like “Do you really think I need a second opinion?” or “My family is saying I should get a second opinion.”

Most patient resources imply that if you don’t seek out a second opinion, you haven’t done your due diligence as an informed and determined patient. I’m not sure if I agree with that.

Some people will truly benefit from hearing another plan from someone else. It may sink in better the second time. It may be more in line with what they actually desire. It may be that they feel a better connection with that person. They may feel “listened to.” Another doctor may be better at explaining something. Or maybe it feels that they then have exhausted all avenues and are therefore able to make the best choice.

For others, second opinions can be expensive and confusing.

water coolerHealthcare professionals have a word that implies a quick second opinion: curbside. It happens by the water cooler, printer, nurse’s desk, in the hallway, through phone calls to different specialists around the country, and via social networking. The conversation usually starts out, “Can I curbside you about a patient?”

I’ve recently thought about all the “second opinions” for my patients that I truly get in one day through “curbsides.” It is a lot. What’s your experience? Have you had a case like this? Should I think about this differently?

While there are no “super secret cancer treatments” that I learn from these “curbsides,” it often validates what I was already going to do. I also learn practice styles, nuggets of information, and different perspectives of varying practitioners. We all come from different perspectives in life and, when handling unusual situations or challenging cases, I want a lot of perspectives.

So if you need a second opinion, I think that is fine. . . BUT I also think it is fine to not get one, if you:

  • already feel “listened” to;
  • can speak honestly and openly to your doctor;
  • know and trust that your doctor is getting their own “curbsides” when they should;
  • know that your doctor will refer you appropriately to another provider if there are services his or her institution does not offer.

The truth is that ALL my patients get second opinions. With many of them, I just happen to be the one organizing them in a framework and plan—and hopefully guiding them according to their goals and wishes with compassion and care.

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