As a practicing Orthopaedic Physician, I am asked clinical questions regularly by my family, friends and even acquaintances that I meet socially. A question that I frequently hear is “How do I select the best physician/surgeon to take care of my fill in the blank problem?” I always try to tell them what I would do for myself personally or for someone in my family. Here are my top 5 characteristics that I would look for in choosing an Orthopaedic, or any other type of Surgeon:
1. Education/Fellowship – Physicians should receive their education from well-respected medical or osteopathic schools that teach physicians to be independent problem-solvers who can apply their knowledge to the issues encountered every day in an OR setting or the office. It is one thing to perform an operation in an academic setting with physician educators there to help you deal with the unexpected; it is another thing entirely to perform an operation where you are the only surgeon in the room and you have to deal with whatever happens on the operating table. Choose the surgeon who has the knowledge and the confidence to deal effectively with the unanticipated.
I also think it is important to choose a physician that has completed a Fellowship in their chosen area of specialty. A Fellowship comprises at least a year of intensive study and hands-on surgical experience, dealing with simple to extremely complex patient issues. This further rigorous scholarship adds comprehensiveness to the surgeon’s expertise and an enhanced confidence level, which is reflected in patient outcomes after surgery.
2. How many procedures has Dr. X done successfully? Every surgeon has a first time doing a particular procedure. Usually, that first time is overseen by an experienced surgeon who can step in and provide assistance should the need arise. Unless you live near a large medical school, I would look for a surgeon who has performed the surgery multiple times, so that I could feel a reasonable level of confidence in their competence. In surgery, practice will increase the surgeon’s proficiency, so find a surgeon that gets a lot of practice doing the procedure you are contemplating.
3. What post-doctoral training has Dr. X completed to improve his/her skills and to stay on top of the latest technological advances? I practice Orthopaedics in the Tidewater area of Virginia. Some surgeons here are very interested in learning new surgical procedures and about the newest, evidence-based technologies that will benefit the patients they serve. Others are still doing surgery the same way they learned in medical school, 30 years ago. Which surgeon would you prefer? I know that I would choose the one using the Iphone or Galaxy 5, versus the one that still had an old-fashioned bag phone, if you follow my analogy. Take the time to research your surgeon and know what he/she is doing in the OR. If they can’t be bothered to learn about scientific advances and new procedures that have been proven to be beneficial, I would not waste my time in their office.
4. What do other Physicians think of Dr. X? Ask your Primary Care Provider. OB/GYN or your child’s Pediatrician for a recommendation or if they have heard of a physician that you have researched. Physicians like to give out the names of other physicians whom they know to be knowledgeable, qualified and on whom they hear positive feedback.
5. What do patients of Dr. X think? Did you know that a recent survey of Facebook users concluded that ¾ of users would rather listen to the testimonial of a complete stranger about medical care vs. that of a physician? Go to health care review web-sites or to the Facebook page or website of the surgeon you are interested in. Look for patient testimonials. A physician who has a good relationship with their patients should have many patient success stories and they will be proud to display them. Pay close attention to what people say about:
a. Their feelings about the surgeon
b. Conservative treatments tried before surgery was recommended
c. Their education regarding the risks and benefits of surgery
d. The success of their surgery
e. Did they get the outcome they expected?
f. Any surprises?
Most of the reviews for the surgeon you are considering should be positive, better yet, GLOWING. When a surgical patient takes the time to write a review full of praise for the physician, there is no higher compliment that can be paid to us. Although it is tough for every surgeon to please every patient, and there may even be a few who are disgruntled, look for the surgeon who has garnered rave reviews from a significant number of his/her patients.
If you apply these tips and look for the characteristics I outlined above, you should find a well-rounded, experienced surgeon who will not only be able to take care of your orthopaedic or other medical issues, but who also may become a family friend and resource for life.
Boyd W. Haynes III, MD is a Fellowship-trained, Board Certified Sports Medicine Specialist with Orthopaedic & Spine Center in Newport News, VA. Voted a Top Doc for 2012, 2013 and 2014 by Coastal Virginia Magazine, Dr. Haynes areas of specialty include Computer-Navigated Direct Anterior Hip Replacement, Outpatient Joint Replacement and Endoscopic Carpal and Cubital Tunnel Release. For more information on Dr. Haynes or OSC, go to www.osc-ortho.com.