My friends and family often call me asking me for advice on “so-and-so” surgeon, and how to know if s/he is “good or not.” Unfortunately, even in the age of the internet, bad surgeons can have their deficiencies masked with glowing reviews, and oftentimes good surgeons do not have the reputations they deserve. Is there a more reliable, substantive way to evaluate a surgeon? I’m hoping the following 4 guiding principles will help you make the right decision.
What are my options?
Every surgeon needs to be prepared to discuss the risk and alternatives to surgery. They need to discuss non-operative treatment options, non-opiate pain regimens, as well as different surgical approaches (minimally invasive when applicable).
Is your staff reliable in scheduling and communication?
A surgeon’s staff needs to be reliable. Often, poor scheduling and communication can get in the way of good treatment. Even though this is not a direct reflection of the surgeon’s ability, effective healthcare delivery, unfortunately, involves lots of moving pieces. Having unreliable office staff may result in big problems down the road.
What is your experience with this procedure?
A surgeon needs to know the latest techniques but also needs thorough experience. This is the principle of “not too young” and “not too old.” Ideally, your surgeon has enough experience to avoid complications, but older surgeons are sometimes not technically proficient at newer techniques (e.g. laparoscopic and robotic minimally invasive surgery techniques). You should do your research in advance and prepare to ask your surgeon about modern modalities. Also do not be afraid to ask how many procedures s/he performs each year.
What is your availability?
Availability. As simple as that. If a “good” surgeon is too busy to see you, or rushes through your appointment without answering your concerns, move on. On the flip side, if you reside in a health care shortage area or rural area, your choices for available surgeons may be limited. You may consider traveling a short distance for the expertise you deserve.
I routinely evaluate people who travel from other states and countries to come see me. Typically, appointments are kept in a timely fashion and coordinated with clients’ schedules. I leave enough time between patients for questions to be asked and answered thoughtfully. Should you need expertise addressing issues related to digestion, inflammation, immunity, cancer, or other surgical diseases, please request an appointment.
Always be true, and surround yourself with people who affirm your wellbeing. Find a doctor who will slow down and listen; find one who carefully considers your concerns; find one who cares.