6 things you must know before choosing your surgeon

1. Look for experience and expertise.

You have a problem that requires surgery so it is imperative that you verify that your surgeon has had years of experience in dealing with the type of problem that you have and has the appropriate training, qualifications, and certifications to perform the required surgery. Find out how many years your doctor has been in practice and performing surgery and find out how often he does the procedure that you need. Find out both where your doctor trained and the extent of training, particularly extra subspecialty training in a particular area of expertise. Finally, it is important to know that your doctor is not only board certified but is board certified in the subspecialty area of interest. Most subspecialties also have their own organizations and societies that require peer review and peer recommendations in order to become a member. See if your doctor is a member of the appropriate subspecialty organizations.

2. Pick a doctor with the right hospital affiliations.

Your surgeon works with a team of health care providers at either a hospital or outpatient surgical center. It is important that the facility is a respected center of excellence with a top local and/or national reputation for providing excellent care. Check to see that the facility has a high caseload of procedures similar to the one you need. This will ensure not only highly qualified team members familiar with your problems and needs but also that they are using the latest top level equipment available to optimize your results.

3. Know who is doing your surgery.

That sounds simple enough but signing up with the “big name” doctor in your area is no guarantee that the entire surgical procedure is being performed by that surgeon. In many academic institutions residents or fellows, under the supervision of the attending surgeon, may perform much of the surgery. Alternatively, there are many surgeons with very high volumes and may be working at two or three operation rooms simultaneously and assigning a good deal of the surgical work to their assistants or junior colleagues. This does not necessarily diminish the end result but it is important to know up front who will be doing what when it comes to your own surgery.

4. Make sure you have easy access to your surgeon and his staff.

Whether its last minute questions or concerns before your surgery or unexpected issues that crop up after the procedure, you want to be confident that you always have easy access to your doctor. Do you have to go through multiple electronic prompts on the phone just to speak to someone and then have to run the gauntlet just to talk to the doctor or does his staff answer the phone promptly and pass your concerns and questions back to the doctor for prompt call backs. If it is difficult to get access before the surgery you can bet that things won’t be any easier afterwards when you may have an even greater sense of urgency. Many doctors communicate by email in addition to phone conversations. This can be a big plus for many patients who prefer this type of communication.

5. Know who is doing your anesthesia

You have checked out your doctor but on the day of surgery you will certainly want to know who is doing the anesthesia. Find out what their experience and expertise is, especially in regard to experience to the type of surgery you are having. Many orthopedic procedures can be supplemented with long acting regional anesthetic blocks that can minimize your discomfort and need for post op narcotic medication.

6. Communicate your goals and expectations clearly

Particularly when it comes to orthopedic issues different patients have different reasons for seeking a certain procedure and along with that come a different set of expectations. It may be as specific as wanting to get back to a particular sporting activity at an elite level of competition or as basic as just wanting to be free of a continuing daily agony of a certain condition. Communicating that to your doctor is important, as it will shape the way he makes decisions both before and during your surgery. You should be confident that the doctor you choose gets to know you and that you are confident that he can deliver you the specific results you want.

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