How to Choose a Surgeon and Hospital for Major Surgery
Research suggests that over the years, patients have become better informed about medical issues. As a result, they increasingly use that information to help them make important healthcare decisions. One such decision is the choice of a surgeon and hospital when faced with the prospect of major surgery. Here’s some information that will help you make these important decisions.
Choosing a SurgeonWhether your surgeon comes recommended by your primary care physician or you choose to select one on your own, don't take your surgeon's qualifications for granted. Here are some credentials to look for:
- Board certification —A good sign of a surgeon's competence is certification by a surgical board that is approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Surgeons who are board-certified in a surgical specialty have completed years of residency training and demonstrated knowledge and competence by successfully completing a rigorous examination.
- Fellowship in the American College of Surgeons —The letters FACS (Fellow of the American College of Surgeons) after a surgeon's name mean the surgeon has passed a thorough evaluation of both professional competence and ethical fitness. Fellows are board-certified surgeons who are committed to placing the welfare of their patients above any other consideration.
- Recommended by a commercial evaluation service —Particularly when outcomes data is not available for your state, hospital, or type of operation, you might consider using one of several commercial, online “Best Doctor” services. (Try searching the Internet using the term “best doctors.”) One such service, http://www.bestdoctors.com , uses a national survey method to solicit doctor recommendations from other prominent doctors. While using a doctor found by such ways doesn’t guarantee excellence, it does allow you to use a surgeon who has received multiple votes of confidence from his peers. These services frequently charge a fee for their recommendations.
- High surgical volume —Consider asking your surgeon how many of your type of operation they have performed in the past year. Many studies suggest that surgical outcomes tend to be better when surgical volume (the number of cases) is highest. A surgeon who does many of your type of operation each year will probably be a better choice than one who does few. But how many is “many”? Unfortunately, there is no definite answer. While some excellent surgeons can maintain their skills in doing a specific operation without continuing practice, if a doctor is not performing an operation like yours at least every few weeks, you have reason to consider whether a more practiced surgeon might lead to a better outcome. If your surgeon practices in a teaching hospital, be sure to insist that your chosen surgeon, rather than an intern or resident, performs the operation.
- Practice at a reputable hospital —Choosing a doctor who practices at a highly reputable, accredited hospital, may improve the chances of surgical quality while, again, not guaranteeing it.