Choosing the Right Orthopedic Surgeon
Orthopedic surgery can offer a life-changing solution to ongoing pain or a debilitating injury. If you’re looking for an orthopedic surgeon for joint replacement or another procedure, you may feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. Fortunately, there are many specialists available to help you get the care you need. You don’t need to blindly scroll through surgeons or pick randomly from a list. The best way to approach orthopedic surgery is with a clear plan.
Proper research and the right questions can help you narrow down your options to the ideal orthopedic surgeon for your needs. This guide will help you find the best provider for your individual situation so you can approach your procedure feeling confident and comfortable.
Which Comes First: The Hospital or the Doctor?
As you’re preparing for orthopedic surgery, you need to consider both the hospital and the doctor. You can do this in whatever order feels most comfortable to you. You may find that your search involves a bit of back and forth as you explore your options. Consider taking notes as you go and highlighting your top three to five choices for both doctors and hospitals. With this information in hand, you can cross-reference the two to find the best overall fit.
Comparing Orthopedic Hospitals
If this is the first time that you’ve researched a hospital or surgical facility, you may feel inundated and unsure of where to start. Statistically, there are two numbers to which you should pay particular attention when considering hospitals: the infection rate and the success rate. In addition, you should also research patient experience.
- How many orthopaedic cases performed per year?
- What types of cases?
- What investments has the hospital made in technology to assist Orthopaedic surgeons? Robotic-Assistance such as RoboDoc, Makoplasty? Computer-Navigation for surgery? Hanna Tables for hip replacements? Specialized instrumentation for complex reconstructions?
- Readmission rates for complications?
Hospital Infection Rates
Many factors can contribute to a hospital’s infection rates, including the type of anesthesia used, whether antibiotics are administered before surgery, and the time spent in surgery. Hospitals can further reduce infection rates by focusing on proper sterilization procedures for the equipment, the room, and the medical staff.
There are many different infections that can occur in a hospital setting, but the rate of central-line bloodstream infections can offer a good benchmark for how careful a facility is about preventing infection. Central-line infections account for about 15 percent of hospital infections and 30 percent of deaths related to hospital infections. With proper preventative measures, however, hospitals can reduce their central-line infection rate to zero, so this is an informative number to look for. Not all hospitals report their infection rates, but the ideal hospital will have no problem supplying this information.
Hospital success rates are an excellent way of judging the proficiency of the location in question. Hospital Compare, a search tool provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, provides detailed data on hospitals around the U.S. This is a useful resource because it allows you to compare hospitals using the same measurements and methods. Higher success rates are always preferable. Whenever possible, focus your research on the orthopedic department so that your information isn’t skewed by the inclusion of unrelated data on other types of procedures.
The Internet offers a wealth of resources for comparing patient experiences across different hospitals. HealthGrades.org provides hospital ratings. This site also gives out awards for high performance. The Joint Commission operates QualityCheck.org, where you can see certifications, accreditation’s, and awards.
There are many review sites online that you can peruse as well for an idea of how actual patients felt about their personal experiences. Keep in mind, however, that most patients will only take the time to share their experiences if they were extremely good or extremely bad. Those who have a moderate experience that meets their expectations don’t seek out review sites to share their stories as often.
Choosing an Orthopedic Surgeon
Choosing an orthopedic surgeon is daunting if you don’t know where to start. If you’re ready to begin your search for a surgeon, there are many things that you can do to begin narrowing down your options.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
The first thing that you should do when you’re looking for a new doctor is check your insurance coverage. Some plans require a referral from your primary care physician if you want to see a specialist. Nearly all plans have specific providers and hospitals that they will cover. While some insurance plans offer partial coverage for out-of-network doctors, it’s almost always most cost-effective to select a provider that operates in your insurance network.
You can get recommendations from many sources. Ask as many people as you can for their opinions. You may find that one or two names pop up consistently, adding further credence to their talents as surgeons. Some good sources for recommendations include:
- Your primary care physician
- Personal friends
- Family members
- Social media connections
- Online patient reviews
- OR and hospital nurses
- Clinical staff members
- Check physician websites for testimonials from satisfied patients
Consider the Surgeon’s Specialty
Orthopedics is a specialty in itself, but you’ll also find that orthopedic surgeons are further specialized. Some common subspecialties in the field include:
An orthopedic surgeon who specializes in your area of need offers additional experience and expertise related to your specific issue. While not all orthopedic issues apply to a subspecialty or require a surgeon who has one, more complex problems can benefit greatly from this type of care.
While there are many skills associated with orthopedic surgery that you can’t measure, education is something that you can quantify and compare. It’s usually very easy to find out about a doctor’s educational background. A quick Internet search should tell you about a practitioner’s specialty, education, certifications and awards, and other medical credentials. Surgeons who are active in medical associations and other groups are an excellent choice because you know that they devote time outside the practice to their career as well.
Orthopedic surgery is continuously developing and changing. Look for a physician with training from recognized and respected schools and membership in industry groups. Most surgeons will have extensive training at multiple schools. Surgeons must obtain a bachelor’s degree and medical degree followed by an internship, residency, and fellowship. Orthopedic surgeons may belong to groups such as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Osteopathic Surgeons, American Osteopathic Association, American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopedics, AO North America, and state osteopathic associations, orthopedic societies, and medical societies.
Your First Visit: What to Ask
Even the most comprehensive research will leave you with some lingering questions about your surgeon. Most surgeons are happy to schedule a consultation where you can get all your questions answered before settling for one physician. If your surgeon of choice doesn’t offer consultations, you can ask these questions at your first appointment.
It’s helpful to make a list of questions before your consultation so you don’t forget anything. Leave space beside and beneath your questions so you can take notes while you’re speaking with the surgeon. This will make it easier to compare different doctors later.
Some questions that you may want to ask include:
- What procedures would you recommend for my problem?
- How often have you performed these procedures?
- What is your complication rate with this procedure?
- What is your complication rate overall?
- Do you feel that you are qualified for this procedure, or should I look for a doctor who is more specialized?
- Are there other options available to me?
- How do you follow up with patients post-surgery?
- Who else will I work with on the medical team? What physical therapists, nurses, and other specialists are available to follow up with my care and recovery?
- Do you participate in any clinical trials or offer new techniques?
- Are you Fellowship-trained?
- Are you board certified?
- May I get another opinion?
Your surgeon should always make you feel comfortable about seeking a second opinion. If you encounter a doctor who discourages you from getting a second opinion, this is a red flag that you should definitely do so.
Signs You May Want to Change Surgeons
No matter where you are in the process of scheduling your surgery, it’s never too late to change surgeons if you’re uncomfortable with your choice for any reason. Take a proactive stance in your health care, and research your condition and possible treatments on your own. If you’re interested in a particular procedure, your surgeon should be open to discussing it with you. He or she should also be able to explain clearly why a desired procedure won’t work for you if you’ve found a solution that you’re interested in.
Some signs that it’s time for you to look into other surgeons include:
- Your surgeon refuses to discuss other options with you, even though you’re feeling unsure about your current plan.
- You feel uncomfortable asking questions.
- You don’t understand your surgeon’s explanations. He or she doesn’t speak with you on your own level.
- Your gut feeling is telling you to go to someone else.
It’s perfectly fine for you to simply follow your gut when it comes to picking a surgeon. Credentials and experience are important, but it’s also essential that you feel comfortable with your doctor.
Remember that your medical care is in your own hands. You always have the power to take your healthcare in a different direction. Research your hospital and provider carefully; and you can approach your appointments with confidence, knowing that your surgery is in the best hands possible.
About Orthopaedic & Spine Center:
Orthopaedic & Spine Center, located in Newport News, Virginia, is a full-service orthopaedic practice with 24 patient exam rooms, three x-ray suites, a Lunar DPX Bone Densitometer Room, an Open Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Center and a state-of-the-art Physical Therapy Center. OSC physicians have full staff privileges at Mercy Mary Immaculate Hospital and Coastal Virginia Surgery Center. Between 8% and 12% of OSC-ORTH patients have surgery, while the rest are treated with conservative approaches.