When choosing a surgeon, “There is a lot of buyer beware,” says gynecological surgeon Helen McCullough. “Gut feeling about the person counts, but there are plenty of nice people I wouldn’t want operating on me. Some of the best surgeons have the worst bedside manner.”
So how do you find the best surgeon for you?
Check the Internet. Web sites for medical practices and hospitals often supply bios of their staffs, with their training and credentials. Though hospital and practice sites aren’t the final word on anyone’s ability, they are helpful. Sometimes, a surgeon’s mere presence on staff says something about his or her credentials. Christiana Care, for example, hires only those who are board certified in their specialties.
Some health-grading sites rate surgeons the way Urban Spoon rates restaurants, so beware. Anyone can weigh in, and disgruntled patients seem more likely to comment. Many unfavorable remarks are a warning sign against that physician, says cardiothoracic surgeon Ray Blackwell, though, again, such sites are far from the final word.
Seek referrals. Your family doctor is a good starting point, as are the hospitals. “If you know a nurse, they can provide keen insights,” says urologist Delbert Kwan. “They can tell you who’s who, their ability, who has the most experience.” Ask acquaintances who have had surgery. They can inform you about the experience, as well as the quality of post-operative care. As for asking your family physician about a particular surgeon, “If there’s any hesitation on your doctor’s part,” says orthopedic surgeon Eric Johnson, “that’s probably not the surgeon for you.”
Check licenses. When you have candidates in mind, visit dpr.delaware.gov. The Web site for the Division of Professional Regulation posts all information about licensing for everyone from accountants and electricians to nurses and physicians. The site will tell you if a doctor’s license is active, expired or if there is a disciplinary action against it by the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, such as a suspension or revocation.
Yet, even a disciplinary action isn’t the final word, says division director James L. Collins. All doctors, even the best, are subject to liability claims. Some licenses can be reinstated, conditionally or in full, once a physician has met certain criteria.
Ask questions. Once you’ve chosen a surgeon, ask everything you can think of. Do you feel comfortable with the procedure? How many of these procedures have you performed? Is this a large part of your practice? Do you feel comfortable with the possible complications? Have you ever lost a patient? Do you have a good physician’s assistant? Good nursing staff? Good office staff? How do I communicate with you when I need to? Is there an action against your license?
And don’t forget to ask about the quality of the anesthesia department. “No surgeon wants to operate where the anesthesia department isn’t up to par,” Kwan says.
After all that research, weigh every factor, Blackwell says. Don’t put all your faith in one.