If you feel you want or need a second opinion, it’s not necessary to inform your doctor, but, contrary to what you may think, most doctors aren’t put off by it. If you do let your doctor know, she can forward your medical records to the next physician, along with a referral for insurance.

Most insurance companies cover second opinions. In fact, a second opinion often is required when surgery is involved. If your insurance requires it, letting your doctor know that can make it easier to broach the subject.

And what if the second surgeon’s recommendations are different from those of the first? It may be necessary to receive a third opinion. “Certainty should come with the interaction between the patient and the doctor. It requires a level of trust, as well as sufficient time for conversation and education,” says Dr. Hadler.

Although getting different doctors’ opinions is good, the decision to have surgery, in the end, is a personal one.

Learn all you can

To get the best results from your surgery and minimize risks, it’s important to know as much as you can about it. Your surgeon should be able to address most of your concerns. (See a list of questions below.) But you also can learn more – and prepare for the important note-taking session with your doctor – by seeking out information. Good places to start: organizations, government agencies and Web sites, including the Arthritis Foundation, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.   

Your doctor also should be able to refer you to classes offered by local hospitals for people considering or signed up for surgery. Such programs not only provide classroom-type instruction on what to expect and how to prepare, but they also offer the camaraderie and support of others who are planning the same surgery.

If you can’t attend a pre-surgery class, you can educate yourself. Meet and talk with others who are going through what you are, or who have done so in the past.

When Vraniak began planning for his hip replacement, he didn’t know anyone who had had the surgery. “But as soon as I started talking about it at work, people would say, ‘My friend just had that done – why don’t you call him?’ So I had sort of an informal network of friends of friends. I probably talked to half a dozen of them,” he says. 

This network, along with information from his surgeon and his research, gave Vraniak a mental edge. He knew he was as prepared as he could be for what was ahead, as well as confident that the treatment choice he had made was the right one.

When you’ve had arthritis pain for years, as Vraniak had, it can be difficult to believe that anything will make it better. “You start thinking that’s just the way it is,” he says. “A lot of people say, ‘I’m old, and that’s what happens.’”

Now the one to share his experience and advice, Vraniak says, “Yeah, that’s what happens, but it can be fixed.”

Questions to ask your surgeon

  • Have I exhausted all of the options: Other drugs? Different doses?  Alternative therapies?
  • Can you describe the specific surgery you’re recommending?
  • What is the success rate of the surgery, and how do you define success
  • How many of these surgeries have you performed in the past year
  • What are the potential risks, and how common are they?
  • Will the surgery need to be repeated in a few years? What are the risks of repeat surgeries if I should need one?
  • Will there be any short-term activity restrictions following the surgery?
  • How long, potentially, will I need to take off from work?
  • Will there be long-term limitations?
  • Do you have information I can read or a video I can watch?
  • Can you connect me with other patients who have had the surgery?