Most surgeons you encounter will have the proper credentials to perform the surgery you need. In most cases, you will end up with a good result. On the other hand, you should not make a rash decision when choosing a neck and spine surgeon. If you encounter any of the 10 things below, think seriously about whether you want to find a different neck and spine surgeon.
- Surgery is presented as the only treatment option.
If you have tried several treatments for your neck or back pain, surgery may be your only option. However, any good surgeon will at least discuss the options you have tried previously or those that may still be available to you instead of surgery. Surgery is hardly ever the only treatment option.
- The surgeon will not state how many times he or she has performed this type of surgery.
You do not want to be the surgeon’s first attempt at a particular surgery. Given the number of procedures that a neck and spine surgeon must perform in order to be qualified to practice, it is unlikely you will be the first. Nevertheless, you want to find out how many procedures the surgeon has performed as the solo/lead/first surgeon. The number should be at least 10 and the higher, the better.
- The surgeon says that no one has complications from a particular surgery.
No surgery is without complications. At the very least, every surgery carries with it the risk of infection and bleeding. Most neck and back surgeries also have specific complications such as nerve damage and joint instability. The surgeon who says that a procedure has no complications is not telling the truth. Part of being a surgical patient is knowing and accepting the associated risks.
- The surgeon will not discuss his or her success rate.
The surgeon who does not discuss his or her own success rate has either not performed many procedures of this type, or is trying to hide a poor success rate. Be skeptical of people who describe a 100% success rate. No surgeon who has been in practice for more than a few years has a 100% success rate and if they have, they are due for an unsuccessful case any time now.
- The surgeon seems annoyed by your reasonable and direct questions.
You are preparing to have major and potentially risky surgery on your spine. You deserve to be able to ask questions. While the surgeon may be annoyed if you keep asking the same question, a good surgeon is happy to answer any and all reasonable questions you may have. If they do not, it is not a good sign.
- The surgeon wants to try an experimental procedure, a new procedure, or an unusual procedure.
It is only good to be the first person to try something if you are the surgeon, not the patient. If you have a particularly troubling or treatment resistant spine problem, new procedures may be your only option. However, for most people neck and back surgery should be routine, not experimental.
- The surgeon cannot name a specific diagnosis for your pain or symptoms.
Neck and spine surgery is not exploratory. A specific surgical treatment should be chosen for specific diagnosis. Keep in mind that “nonspecific neck pain” and “nonspecific back pain” are specific diagnoses.
- The surgeon has not completed the spine surgery fellowship.
If you live in a reasonably populated area, such as New York and New Jersey, you will be able to find a surgeon who has completed a spine surgery fellowship. You do not need to settle for a general orthopaedic surgeon.
- The surgeon cannot provide detailed information about the surgery.
The surgeon should be able to provide as much detail about the surgery as you require. If they cannot, perhaps they do not know enough about the surgery to be performing it on you.
- Something in your gut just does not feel right.
Finally, trust your gut. If something does not seem right about the surgeon, then it probably is not. Schedule an appointment with someone else.