How do you pick a back surgeon?
You have back pain and are miserable. Your Primary Care has sent you for an MRI and recommended you see a back surgeon. On your way home you notice (because hey, you’re looking for a back surgeon) billboards all over the place “free MRI reviews”, “have your surgery in one day and go back the next” and so on. Good looking people with a Band-Aid on their back make good advertising but does it make sense to choose a surgeon that way?
The first thing you need to do is talk to people; your Primary Care, any medical people you know (they hear things) and people who have been through this. Check online for information on Physician Grading and look up your physician. Any grade less than 4 stars is something to research further.
Second is to know who your physician is. Is he/she someone you have spent time with? Did they review your films and discuss other ways of improving your back before you have surgery? Do you feel comfortable in their office? Are you greeted personally or are you seated with several other people and expected to wait?
Third is to get a second opinion. Unless it is an emergency, never have surgery without getting another unbiased opinion. A good surgeon would never discourage this and in fact should welcome another opinion.
Fourth is to know your expected results. Though many companies brag about the one day miracle they can do on your back, any competent and efficient minimally invasive surgeon will get you out of the center/ hospital the same day. You want to check infection rates, reoperation rates and satisfaction scores.
Finally, go with your gut. Are you comfortable, confident and satisfied with your research? If you are not, continue looking. This is your back for life and you need to take care of it. A little time for research and increased knowledge is never wasted.
- Kurd MF, Lurie JD, Zhao W, Tosteson T, Hilibrand AS, Rihn J, Albert TJ, Weinstein JN. Predictors of treatment choice in lumbar spinal stenosis: a spine patient outcomes research trial study. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2012 Sep 1;37(19):1702-7. PubMed PMID: 22426453