Select Page

Second medical opinion services – how insurers compare

Second medical opinion services – how insurers compare

In reading this article you will understand:

  • Which insurers do / do not offer a second medical opinion service for clients and if they are provided in-house or by third party suppliers
  • Which family members can access the service, beyond the life assured
  • How signposting to other supporting services differs across providers

Many clients will have more faith in a diagnosis or course of treatment if more than one medical professional comes to that same conclusion independently of each other. That is why the second medical opinion services that some insurers offer on their protection plans are valuable to clients and why it may benefit advisers to know who offers what. In this insight we delve into the detail of second medical opinion services.

All advisers and their clients will have come across variations of ‘two heads are better than one’ and ‘the more pairs of eyes the better’. The gist of these sayings is that it is better to have more than one opinion on something, to act as a check and balance. It may sound dramatic, but it could save lives or massively improve the rest of someone’s life. Giving clients a chance to talk through a diagnosis or treatment plan with a different medical specialist can help to dismiss fears of being misdiagnosed and confirm whether what has already been suggested by their doctors really is the best course of action.

Second Medical Opinion (SMO) services can help to reassure clients who are unhappy with some aspect of their current health discussions and who may be wondering if there is a different course of action that their doctor is not aware of, or has not considered. According to AIG the outcomes for Second medical Opinions are:

  • 58% resulted in the same diagnosis and peace of mind
  • 11% resulted in a different diagnosis
  • 31% resulted in a different treatment plan

So whether the outcome is peace of mind or a new treatment plan clients will take huge comfort from  the use of SMO services.

As our chart shows, most insurers provide SMO services. Just three insurers – Holloway Friendly, VitalityLife and Zurich –  do not. For those who make these benefits available on their products, it is common to do so as standard and not charge extra for.

There are a number of third party suppliers that insurers partner with to provide their second medical opinion services. Looking at our table below, it is clear that most insurers team up with RedArc or Square Health. Both organisations are well-known in the financial services industry and will be familiar to advisers in the protection market. Given that both these organisations focus on the UK, it is not surprising that the majority of insurers source second medical opinions nationally, not internationally.

Second Medical Opinion Service
Best Doctors
Square Health *
British Friendly
Square Health
Canada Life
Red Arc
Cirencester Friendly
Red Arc
Red Arc
Legal & General
Red Arc
Square Health
Royal London
Red Arc
Scottish Widows
Red Arc
The Exeter
Square Health

Our table shows that AIG is the only insurer with the global reach within their core proposition and this appears to be due to the service being provided by Best Doctors, which operates globally. While sourcing second medical opinions from within the UK may be quicker, the best medical specialists, facilities and doctors may not always be in this country, so the ability to look globally is a big plus.

*Aviva use Square Health for UK based second medical opinions, however a global second medical opinion can be accessed using Best Doctors if customers include the Global Treatment option at an additional cost of £3.00 per month for new business.

* British Friendly & Cirencester Friendly only offer Income Protection so do not offer plans on a life of another basis.

Insurers tend to allow close family members of the life assured to use their second medical opinion services and where the plan holder is not the life assured, they may also have access to these benefits.

Looking at our table shows the majority of insurers extend the use of their second medical opinion services to the life assured’s ‘other half’ and children, but there are exceptions. Guardian and LV= allow children but not partners/spouses to use their services, while Cirencester Friendly does the reverse.

Insurers are more divided in relation to extending the use of their services to planholders if they are not the life assured. Only four of the eleven providers allow this.

Another difference between insurers is whether the services can be accessed at any point during the policy lifespan or only at point of claim. Of the insurers that offer SMO services, the vast majority make them available  at any time during the policy, with Canada Life the only provider to offer this only at the point of claim.

Looking at other aspects of the SMO services illustrates how similar the majority are in many ways, with only the odd exception. For example, our table shows that the full cost of a SMO is covered by all services except Canada Life’s. Similarly, all providers bar LV= offer each client a dedicated nurse or doctor to oversee the SMO and explain the outcomes.

When it comes to signposting customers to other supporting services there is again a broad consensus within the market, with just one or two exceptions. Canada Life and The Exeter are the only insurers that will not signpost clients to specialists in the areas of fitness and nutrition. The other providers in the market will all do so with the client’s consent.

All insurers will send a report to the client and with the exception of LV= this report will be discussed with the client by a case manager. Most insurers also send details of any consultations under their SMO services to a client’s GP with their consent, however, Canada Life and Legal & General will not do this.

Overall, providers that offer SMO services are largely doing the right things to ensure that clients get the most out of them and that is perhaps why many of their features are similar.

AIG should be commended for widening the scope of medical opinions for its customers to beyond the UK. However, as mentioned previously, this has much to do with the global reach of its partner, Best Doctors, and should not take anything away from RedArc and Square Health, the UK-based partners that the other insurers have teamed up with.

AIG also have the broadest coverage in terms of who can access SMO services, although Royal London and Scottish Widows are worthy of a mention for this too. 

Things to reflect on for CPD:

  • In this Covid world, has your clients’ prioritisation of second medical opinion services changed? If so, how?
  • If a second medical opinion service is important to your client, what questions will you ask to determine the most suitable service?
  • Considering the Aviva proposition, what would influence your recommendation between the UK based second medical opinion and the worldwide service via Global Treatment?

About The Author


Steve joined the Protection Guru team from a career in protection with some of the largest providers and networks in the UK. His broad background in marketing, propositions and relationship management leaves him ideally placed to drive the adoption of our extensive range of protection services to UK distributors. In his spare time Steve is a huge fan of Formula 1, Pink Floyd and enjoys spending time near or on the sea.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


User Details

Login or Register

Visit our learning & development Hub


We use cookies to track usage of our website using Google Analytics. Click here to opt-out.
Share This