Jerry’s limp was getting worse. The injury that started out as a mild irritation had become a constant pain that kept him awake at night. He made an appointment with his primary care provider. After a short office visit and an X-ray, his doctor confirmed Jerry’s fear. His knee needed surgical repair. Jerry left his doctor’s office with an appointment scheduled to see an orthopaedic surgeon. But, Jerry wanted to make sure the surgeon who operated on his hip offered expert care.
You, like Jerry, may need to find an orthopaedic provider. How do you know if the person you choose will provide the best care?
Fortunately, with a little research, you can increase your odds of finding a qualified orthopaedic surgeon.
Ask for referrals
The first place to ask for referrals is your primary care provider. Instead of being satisfied with the name of just one orthopaedic surgeon, ask for several names. Ask your provider why he or she recommends each person.
- Does the surgeon have expertise treating your condition?
- Is the surgeon known for his or her rate of success?
Finding an orthopaedic provider who is respected within the medical community is a good place to start. But, it’s not the only place to find information.
Friends and family members who have had similar orthopaedic problems are excellent sources of information. Ask them to tell you about their experience.
- How did they feel about the care they received?
- Did the surgeon have a positive bedside manner?
- Were they satisfied with the results?
- Would they go back to the surgeon? Why or why not?
This first-hand knowledge can be valuable as you make your choice.
Determine what characteristics are important to you
Of course, you want a surgeon who has a high level of expertise. However, there are other things to consider when choosing a doctor besides his or her ability to operate.
Are you more comfortable with a male or a female? Today, both men and women specialize in orthopaedic care. If gender is important to you, factor it into your choice. You may also want to ask if there is a gender-specific treatment plan for your condition.
Do you want a surgeon who involves you in the treatment decision? Some surgeons dictate the type of care and treatment you need. Others take the time to explain your condition and discuss all the possible treatment options available to you. Which type of care do you prefer?
After you have a firm idea of the personality you prefer to work with during your surgery, you’re ready for the next step.
Talk to your insurance provider
Call your insurance company to see which provider’s service your insurance covers. Choosing a surgeon within your network is often the wisest financial decision for many families and minimizes your out-of-pocket costs.
As you talk to your insurance agent, you may want to ask if your insurance covers second or third opinions.
Research the referrals
Using your list of surgeons, start looking for information about individual doctors on the Internet.
Many health-system websites include profiles for each provider in the group. Often these profiles include:
Information about the provider’s education
Areas of specialization or special interest
Take a close look at the level of training. Typically, the more training a surgeon completed in his or her area of specialty means they have more experience treating certain conditions.
Look licensing and malpractice history. In Wisconsin, you can verify a provider’s status at https://app.wi.gov/licensesearch.
There are also several orthopaedic associations that may have information about orthopaedic surgeons. A few of the most popular are:
Read physician reviews. Healthgrades.com and other medical-review sites can help you find out more about the orthopaedic professionals on your list.
Review information on social media. You can also find patient-based information on an orthopaedic group’s Facebook or Google page. Remember, surgeon reviews authored by co-workers or competitors may contain exaggerated details. Read all the reviews for a consensus.
Don’t be surprised if you see conflicting reviews for the same surgeon. All patients and conditions are different. Some patients are pleased with their outcomes, and others are not. Taking the time to read all the reviews about a provider will give you a good indication of the type of service a surgeon provides.
Make an appointment
Make an appointment with the surgeon you think would provide you with the best care. Share your X-rays, a brief history of your pre-existing conditions, and your goals for recovery.
If you made the appointment to get a second opinion, don’t share details of your other treatment discussions. You want each surgeon to describe the recommended care options based on his or her expertise. During your conversation, you may gain information, insight and learn more about your condition.
Ask the surgeon why he or she prefers one treatment over another.
You’ll also want to talk to the provider about his or her treatment style, experience, and the possible complications and risks of your treatment.
Are you comfortable with the office staff and facility?
The nurses and office staff are important people in your care plan. As your first point of contact, nurses and receptionists will:
- Schedule your appointments
- Send information to your insurance provider
- Register you for pre-surgical training
- Arrange your physical therapy
A professional and caring administrative and nursing staff will have a genuine concern for your well-being, provide you with superior customer service and answer your concerns. Feeling comfortable with the staff who support your surgeon is an important aspect of your care.
Ask about devices that will be involved
Not every surgical procedure includes a device, but in the case of a total joint replacement, the type of implant can make a difference in your results.
Talk to your surgical-provider candidates about the joint replacement appliances they use. Ask them why they choose a particular brand of hardware. If the surgeon doesn’t talk about the longevity of the device or doesn’t disclose the failure rates and complications of the device, you can ask about those as well.
When everything else is equal, personality makes the difference
If you find two orthopaedic specialists with the same credentials and experience, your decision may come down to the provider who makes you feel most at ease.
At your consultation appointments, rate each provider on his or her:
- Willingness to listen to your concerns.
- Ability to answer your questions and explain procedures.
- Willingness to be contacted for more information.
- Bedside manner: Did you feel rushed? Were your questions welcomed?
- Personal involvement: Did you feel like a partner or a bystander in your care?
These questions help you assess how a provider will take care of you when you are a patient. You will feel better and heal better if you have a trusting and collaborative relationship with a provider who shares your values.
Ask where the surgery will take place
Not all hospitals are equal.
If you have a choice of providers who have operating privileges at ambulatory surgical centers or multiple hospitals, investigate the infection and readmission rates of those facilities. If possible, choose the facility with the lowest rates and the best outcomes. You can check some of these facts at www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare.
Ask your provider about other precautions you can take to follow to reduce your risk of infection.
Make a final decision
Remember, choosing an orthopaedic surgeon is a personal choice. Continue to ask questions and conduct research until you find an orthopaedic surgeon you like and trust. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make for your future mobility.