If you're considering back or neck surgery, selecting the right surgeon is essential for you to have your best chance at achieving pain relief and minimizing potential complications. Here are 3 tips for picking the right spine surgeon for you.

Having a list of questions is a valuable use of time for both patient and doctor.
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Video: Questions to Ask Your Spine Surgeon

1. Ask the surgeon questions about qualifications and experience.

Some good questions to ask include:

  • How many times have you performed this type of specific surgery? In general, when it comes to surgery, practice makes perfect. Be sure to ask for specifics about risks and expected benefits with surgery. Are there side effects from surgery short- and long-term? For example, if the surgeon recommends a cervical artificial disc replacement to relieve your neck and arm pain, ask how many times he or she has performed this surgery and what to expect during recovery.
  • Are you board eligible or board certified? You can usually look on the wall and see a certificate. Your surgeon should also be a member of a major spine organization, such as the North American Spine Society or American Board of Spine Surgeons.
  • 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.
  • Can I talk to other patients who have had a similar procedure? Some surgeons have former patients who are willing to share their experiences and what to expect with the surgery. According to HIPAA guidelines, the surgeon would first need a signed consent form from any of his or her patients willing to talk to you.

Read more about Specific Questions to Ask Your Spine Surgeon

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.

See Red Flags to Notice When Choosing a Spine Surgeon

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2. Verify your surgeon’s credentials.

While there is no Consumer Reports equivalent for doctors, you can take steps to verify that your doctor’s credentials are certified by the state’s medical board. Try searching on your state’s medical board website. Another option is to check DocInfo.org, which is run by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

In the course of your research, you might discover discrepancies in what the surgeon has advertised in terms of credentials and what is on file with the state’s medical board. Feel free to ask the surgeon questions about any discrepancies that you discover.

See Guidelines for Evaluating a Spine Surgeon

3. Recognize that the second opinion is not always best.

You may want to seek a second opinion if the first surgeon:

  • Does not explain the procedure or your diagnosis to your satisfaction.
  • Does not fully answer your questions.
  • Lacks experience or qualifications.

While it is typically a good idea to get a second opinion before deciding on major surgery, remember that the second surgeon’s opinion is not always best. Also, be sure to ask the second surgeon all the same questions about experience and qualifications as the first. In cases when you cannot decide between the two surgeons, you may need a third opinion.

See How and When to Get a Second Opinion Before Spine Surgery

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Before choosing surgery, always be sure that the surgeon has fully answered all of your questions and explained the potential benefits, risks, and, if available, alternative treatment options.

Learn more:

How to Select a Spine Surgeon

Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Neurosurgeon for Spine Surgery

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