When it comes to making big purchases, Americans are willing to do their homework. From something as small as a tablet or a new phone, all the way up to the vehicles parked in our garages, Americans spend hours in front of computer screens searching for product reviews, reading consumer reports, even asking our social media friends for their opinions.
Unfortunately, Americans don’t spend nearly as much time researching their physicians. Here are some tips to consider when choosing a spine surgeon.
- know the difference between ortho and neuro
- focus on fellowship training
- ask about experience
- check out online review sites
- rely on referrals alone
- ignore your instincts
- be afraid to ask questions
- trust 100 percent guarantees
Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons both specialize in spinal surgeries, but their training is different. Orthopedics diagnose and treat bone and joint disorders such as arthritis, sports injuries, bone tumors, skeletal deformities, and joint replacements. Neurosurgeons focus on diagnosis and treatment of the brain and nervous system, such as the brain, spine and spinal cord, nerves, and blood vessels within the skull. Consider your condition and ask for each surgeon’s level of experience in treating it.
A fellowship-trained spine surgeon signifies a professional who has chosen to specialize in spine surgery, making the extra investment in training to become more skilled in that specific area. Spine fellowships include at least one additional year of specialized spine training.
Ask the prospective surgeon how long he/she has been practicing and understand their area of expertise. You should be comfortable with the level of experience the surgeon has with the particular treatment option you’re considering. Understand how many times the surgeon has performed the surgery and ask about outcomes. Ask if they are a member of The North American Spine Society – it requires that at least 50% of a physician's practice be devoted to spine treatment as inclusion criteria for the society.
There are numerous websites that specialize in reviewing and monitoring doctors. One example is Vitals.com. Websites such as Vitals allow you to get a glimpse of not only the surgeon’s credentials and accepted insurance plans, but also allows you to review what other patients have said about the surgeon.
Although many referrals turn out to be the right option, it’s not always the best option. Do some homework to ensure you are choosing the most qualified surgeon.
What is your gut telling you about the surgeon? Don’t underestimate the importance of your instincts. Patients who like their doctors and have confidence in their abilities will have less anxiety and likely recover more quickly. Spine surgery is stressful enough; you don’t need the added stress of not liking or trusting your surgeon.
Undoubtedly, there will be aspects of your condition or your upcoming surgery that you don’t understand. You want to choose a surgeon who is willing to take the time to answer all of your questions. All too often we feel rushed, as though our doctors don’t really have time for a thorough conversation. A surgeon who takes the time to answer all of your questions and explains the procedure in a way you understand shows a doctor who is patient and empathetic – both very important qualities.
Hearing that “everyone comes out of this surgery just fine,” may seem encouraging, but it’s probably not accurate. With any surgery there are risks. Choose a surgeon who is able to accurately articulate those risks, ensuring that you are choosing an honest and upfront surgeon.
Although researching spine surgeons isn’t nearly as fun as learning about all of the bells and whistles available for your new vehicle, it’s still a necessary step in not only resolving your pain, but also feeling confident about undergoing what can be a scary, and often life-changing experience.