How Do I Choose a Surgeon?

Before you schedule surgery or any treatment with a specific doctor, ask yourself: How does he or she make you feel? Do they listen to your questions? Do they attempt to answer them in a way that is easy to understand? Always trust your instincts—and ask for other people’s opinions too. Talking to other patients and physicians can help you evaluate whether or not a particular surgeon is right for you.

How Can Talking to Other Patients Help?

Other patients can often give an overall impression of a surgeon. Usually, these opinions are based on that patient’s comfort level with the surgeon and their personal medical outcome. If you are referred to a patient from the physician you are evaluating, try to speak with another patient whose name was not given to you by the physician you are looking into. By speaking with more than one patient, you should be able to get a somewhat unbiased opinion. In any case, be sure not to base your entire evaluation on the sole opinion of one patient.

Here are some questions you may want to ask other patients:

  • Did the doctor take enough time, both in treating and in explaining things to you and your family?
  • Did you feel confident in the doctor’s expertise?
  • Would you return to this doctor for further care?
  • Was the doctor easy to get ahold of, especially after surgery?
  • Was the doctor’s office staff courteous and cooperative? (This is important because you will usually deal with the doctor’s staff more than you will deal with the doctor directly.)

These questions, along with other helpful tips are also available in our Doctor Discussion Guide.

How Can Talking to Other Physicians Help?

It may be difficult to get another physician to give an opinion of one of their peers. It is possible that they could be sued for slander if they were to speak negatively about another physician. However, a good rule to follow is that most physicians are very willing to give a good opinion of a physician they feel confident about, and have a tendency to be vague about those they do not.

Another good measuring tool when evaluating a physician is to find out how many procedures he or she performs every year. However, be careful, because numbers can be misleading. Be sure to find out what represents a large number for that particular operation, because it may vary from procedure to procedure.

What Can a Physician’s Training Tell Me?

You can and should inquire about your surgeon’s level of training. The highest level of training available is called a “fellowship.” This usually means that the physician has spent a year working at a spine specialty center seeing complex spine patients with senior spine experts. This fellowship program typically relates to orthopaedic surgeons rather than neurosurgeons. A fellowship for neurosurgeons may be a year split between training in spine and brain surgery.

The difference between orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons is that orthopaedic surgeons generally concentrate on bone and neurosurgeons generally concentrate on nerves. As we know, the spine involves both of these elements.

Many spine centers include both specialties, and a multidisciplinary approach to spine surgery and rehabilitation is often beneficial.

What Can Board Certification Tell Me?

Board certification is a term that is often thrown around when it comes to evaluating physicians. While certification may be a good indicator, it is not without its flaws. The fact is, there are numerous boards and societies and some of these are self-designated and without any formal requirements. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is made up of 24 approved medical specialties. To find out if the doctor you are evaluating is certified, you can call the ABMS at (866) ASK-ABMS (275-2267).

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

When you are trying to make a decision about surgery, the more information you gather beforehand, the more comfortable you and your family will be. Most physicians will not be offended if you decide to ask another physician for a second opinion. If you have any doubts, you should not hesitate to ask for one, and most physicians will be more than happy to refer you to another doctor in order for you to obtain a second opinion. You do not have to change doctors, and if nothing else, it may help put your mind at ease.

It is recommended that you do not share your diagnosis and the recommendations of the first physician with the second physician, in order to ensure the integrity of the second opinion. Often, physicians will feel compelled to agree with the opinion of the first physician.

Looking for the right surgeon or ready to get a second opinion? Let us help.