How to Choose an Orthopedic Surgeon

Story by Annette Brooks

Although you may be referred to one or more orthopedic surgeons by your primary care doctor or another physician, it’s good to know you have a choice. You want the best results possible because you will likely have to live with them for the rest of your life. The right orthopedic surgeon can help you avoid medical complications and a poor outcome, and possibly hasten your recovery and make it more comfortable. This can be dependent not only on the surgeon’s skill and experience, but the techniques used, such as minimally invasive surgery, and the advanced treatments provided, like platelet-rich plasma injections.

Start your search by deciding whether you require an orthopedic surgeon who subspecializes. Some of the most common subspecialties in orthopedic medicine are joint replacement, sports medicine, and hand surgery. After completing four years of medical school plus a multi-year orthopedic surgery residency, those who decide to subspecialize complete a fellowship after their residency.

Determining whether to seek out a subspecialist depends on your case and preferences. For example, choosing a surgeon for your child who subspecializes in pediatric orthopedics can bring peace of mind. Similarly, if you’re considering spine surgery, look for a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has completed a spine surgery fellowship program.

As you narrow down your list, call each surgeon’s office and ask for a consult appointment to meet and interview the surgeon. He or she should take time to get to know you, educate you about your condition, make specific treatment recommendations, and review various therapeutic options while comparing relative risks, upsides, and limitations. Discuss what’s likely to happen and how your condition could progress if left untreated. Ask how many patients with your specific condition the orthopedic surgeon has treated. If surgery is recommended, will it be performed using minimally invasive techniques? If not, why? Ask how many procedures like yours the doctor has performed. And what complications they have encountered, as well as your own risk of complications. All surgeons should be willing to share this information with you and answer questions to your satisfaction, including those about their credentials (such as board certification).

Consults are also a great way to decide whether you sense a trusting connection with the orthopedic surgeon. Mindfully evaluate the communication style during your consult. Does the surgeon make you feel at ease? Are your questions welcomed and answered in ways you can understand? If a surgeon pushes back, is distracted, or tries to rush you, keep looking.

Finally, find out what hospital or hospitals a surgeon is affiliated with. Check out the quality of care at the hospital or ambulatory surgery center where your surgery will be performed. Hospital quality matters because patients at top-rated hospitals typically have fewer complications and better survival rates.

Undergoing orthopedic surgery can be a stressful time in your life. Few things are more important than health, so spend enough time to make the correct healthcare decision. Do the research and ask questions until you’re confident you’re making the right choice.