Sometimes you have no choice about surgery - an emergency appendectomy for instance. But, other kinds of surgery are not necessarily emergencies. In these cases, many people are taking the extra time to get a second opinion.

This step gives you a chance to ask a second doctor if the surgery is necessary, or if there are other non-surgical, effective methods of treatment you can try instead. And today many health insurance policies pay for and may even require your getting additional advice.To help you know when and how to go about getting a second opinion, the Department of Health and Human Services has a free booklet entitled "Facing Surgery: Why Not Get a Second Opinion?" (item 545W, free).

The booklet provides you with questions to ask about your surgery plus tips on how to find a specialist to give you a second opinion. For a copy send your name and address to Consumer Information Center, Department 545W, Pueblo, Colo., 81009.

If your doctor recommends non-emergency surgery, there are several ways to find a surgeon or another doctor who specializes in the treatment of your medical problem:

- You can ask your doctor to give you the name of a specialist. Don't hesitate to ask. Most physicians encourage patients to seek a second opinion.

- If you prefer to find another doctor on your own, contact your local medical society or medical school for names of doctors who specialize in the field of medicine you need.

- You can call Medicare's toll-free number: 1-800-638-6833 to get help in locating a specialist near you.

- If you're eligible for Medicaid, you can call your local welfare office.

Some people don't feel comfortable letting their doctor know that they are getting a second opinion. However, if you tell your doctor, you can ask that your records be sent to the second doctor. In this way, you may be able to avoid the time, cost and discomfort of having to repeat tests.

When you get a second opinion, tell the second doctor what surgical procedure was recommended and what tests you've had.

If the second doctor agrees that surgery is the best way to treat the problem, you can chose which doctor you'd prefer to do the operation. If the second opinion disagrees with the first, you'll have to weigh the facts and make your own decision.

Or you may want to talk to a third physician.

When you send for "Facing Surgery" you will get a free copy of the Consumer Information Catalog which lists over 200 free and low-cost federal consumer publications on a wide variety of subjects.