If you notice any of these red flags from your surgeon, do whatever you can to find a new one. True, not everyone has the luxury to “shop around” for a surgeon. But, ask yourself: is the cost of ignoring the warning signs worth it? Be on the lookout for the following scenarios:

  1. A surgeon who claims “everyone does well with this surgery” does not have the facts straight. There is no surgery that does not have risks and that always has a good outcome.
  2. It takes a lot of practice to get good at operating on the spine. If a surgeon’s main focus is hip surgery, for example, it’s probable he is no expert on the spine.
  3. Consider it a problem if your surgeon cannot clearly articulate what he or she thinks is the anatomic problem that is causing your pain and how he or she proposes to correct it.
  4. A good surgeon should be easily able to articulate not only the specific risks of a procedure but also the percentage chance of that specific risk.
  5. Be very skeptical if your surgeon proposes doing a multilevel fusion in the lumbar spine for degenerative disc disease. The spine is meant to move. Although fusing one or possibly two levels for a badly degenerated disc is reasonable, fusing multiple levels is rarely necessary or advisable.
  6. Make sure your surgeon offers non-surgical treatment options. He or she may be operating under the old "I have a hammer so everything I treat is a nail" adage.
  7. A well-qualified, informed physician does not mind an inquisitive patient. A marginal physician is more likely to be put out by questions. If your surgeon gets perturbed by your questions, consider him or her marginal.
  1. Run if the surgeon states that he or she has never done this particular type of surgery, but would like to try it.
  2. The most common reason a surgery does not work is that the patient did not need the surgery in the first place. If your surgeon proposes doing a surgery all over again, he or she may not have your best interest in mind.

Learn more:

How and When to Get a Second Opinion Before Spine Surgery