3 Tips on How to Find a Great Spine Surgeon

Back surgery is typically performed after patients have tried many conservative treatments, with little success. Because the goal of back surgery is usually to ease pain, not to save a life, most procedures are considered to be elective. But, for people who feel they got their lives back after back surgery, "elective" may not be the correct term.

Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) Video A spine fusion is a big deal. Be selective in who you choose to do this for you. Watch: Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) Video

The number one reason back surgery fails is because of an incorrect diagnosis. Finding a great spine surgeon will help increase the odds of getting a correct diagnosis and a successful corrective surgery.

So, how do you find a great spine surgeon?

We've written many articles on the importance of choosing the right surgeon for you, and in this blog we'll compile some guidelines and tips to help take the mystery out of the process.

  1. Don't be shy about asking pointed questions regarding the surgeon's qualifications and experience with the spine surgery you are considering.

    Among other questions, you should ask:

    • How many times have you done this procedure? In general, when it comes to surgery, practice makes perfect. However, if the doctor is recommending something that is not often done, such as multi-level fusions, it would be understandable if the doctor had not done the procedure often.
    • Are you board eligible or board certified? You can usually look on the wall and see a certificate.
    • Are you fellowship trained in spine surgery? Having a fellowship-trained surgeon is more important if the surgery is a fusion, an artificial disc replacement, or another extensive procedure.
    • If I want to get a second opinion, who would you recommend?
    • Statistically, the success rate for this type of surgery is __%. What is your personal success rate, and how many of this type of surgery have you done?
    • Can I talk to other patients who have had a similar procedure? The surgeon would have to have a signed consent form from any of his or her patients willing to talk to you, according to HIPAA guidelines.

    Any defensiveness on the part of the surgeon when you ask these types of questions may be a red flag. A surgeon with good results and appropriate qualifications will not be threatened by these types of questions and will respect your attention to these matters.

Article continues below
  1. Verify your surgeon's skills and expertise.

    There is no Consumer Reports equivalent for doctors, and it's infinitely harder to find someone you know and trust who has had the same spine surgery for the same condition as you have. In this blog post, we go into detail about some little-known and highly effective ways to double check your surgeon:

    Spine-health's Medical Director (who is a spine surgeon) shares his advice on spine surgeon warning signs in:

  2. Realize the second opinion is not always the best opinion.

    A common belief is that no one should have spine surgery unless they receive a second opinion from another surgeon. On the surface, this would sound like good old common sense.

    However, there is a trap in this line of thinking. Find it in this article: How and When to Get a Second Opinion Before Spine Surgery

How did you find your spine surgeon? Add your comments here:

How did you find your spine surgeon? Did you go with the person your insurance assigned you, or were you able to be more selective?

Posted by Spine-health on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Learn more:

Additional Resources:

Article written by: