Have you been told you need Spinal Surgery? If possible, it is always wise to get a second opinion. But wait!  Do your homework first. This is what I would do before seeing a spine surgeon for a second opinion….
1.  Go with a trusted friend or family member. Two sets of ears and two brains are better than one. When given large amounts of information at an already stressful time, a second person is necessary to listen, document, and keep you on track, as you are making decisions.
2. Do your homework on the Surgeon you will see. When did they graduate? How long have they been practicing and do they have longevity at the location they are at? Where does the surgeon operate?  What is the reputation of the surgical facility?  Spend some time researching the surgeon on the internet, talk to other people, and talk to your PCP.
3. Make sure to bring all the diagnostic studies needed to evaluate the need of the surgery.  That will include the actual images of the X-rays, CT scans, MRI’s, etc.  Just the reports by themselves are not enough.   To make an analogy, these studies are the blueprint of your anatomy.  Decisions for the type of surgery are based on the anatomy.  While reports may indicate a finding, the description of the findings often differ from each reader of the test.  The Surgeon will want to review the “blueprints” themselves before making the recommendation for a particular surgery.
So, these are the steps you should take before the visit.  Now, let’s move on the questions that you should ask the surgeon.

1.  Based on my examination, workup and treatment history, can surgery be beneficial?
2. Have I exhausted the reasonable non-surgical options?
3.  Is there more than one surgical option?
4.  Is the surgery recommended by my Surgeon a reasonable option?
5. What are the specific risks of the recommended surgery?
6. What are the reasons I can expect a successful surgical outcome?
7.  Can you define what is considered a successful outcome for the surgery?
8.  Can you predict my chances for achieving that successful outcome?
9. What are the reasons I may not have a successful surgical outcome?
10. What are the risks of not having surgery?
11. If you or a member of your family were in my situation, would you proceed with the surgery?
12.  If the surgery is not successful, is there another option for my situation in the future?
One factor that can be significant to some is whether that particular surgeon participates in your insurance plan.  While finances are important, the outcome of the surgery often depends on your confidence that you are doing the right thing. If you have a particular surgeon you want to see, please see that person.  Even if the surgeon is not on your plan, the peace of mind knowing that the planned surgery is appropriate, is worth the extra expense.  It is after all, a second opinion.  You just want to be confident that the planned surgery, by your initial surgeon, is a reasonable solution to your problem.



  • Wilson TJ, Franz E, Vollmer CF, Chang KW, Upadhyaya C, Park P, Yang LJ. Patient-perceived surgical indication influences patient expectations of surgery for degenerative spinal disease. Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2017 Jun;157:11-16. PubMed PMID: 28359906


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Last modified: June 1, 2017

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