With Lisa Kennedy, BSN, RN
Maybe it’s a hip or knee replacement due to the normal wear and tear of aging. Maybe it’s a hand injury requiring reconstruction. Or maybe it’s a painful lower back caused by worsening sciatica. There are many reasons that lead people to search for an orthopedic surgeon, and there are many experienced surgeons to choose from. So how do you find the right surgeon?
Picking My Surgeon?
The idea that you can choose your own surgeon, instead of simply being referred to one by the hospital or a primary care physician, may come as a surprise to some, but it’s an important part of the journey.
If orthopedic surgery ends up being the path you take, your surgeon will play an integral role in ensuring it’s a success.
“It’s not a one-time visit,” says Lisa Kennedy, BSN, RN, “You’re going to be developing a rapport, and you want somebody who you can trust to help you navigate through the whole treatment path.”
This includes everything from discussions and diagnostics before surgery to pain management and follow-ups afterward. So, you’ll want to find a surgeon who feels right for you.
Having the right surgeon can even impact your recovery. “If you have confidence in your surgeon, you’re also going to have confidence in yourself and what they’re telling you,” says Kennedy. “If you’re not comfortable with what they’re saying, you’re not going to fully apply yourself because you’re always going to have that doubt.”
How Do I Pick?
Look for a surgeon who specializes in what you need. Not all orthopedic surgeons specialize in the same procedures or areas of the body. Make sure that the surgeon you’re contacting has experience in and is comfortable with the procedure you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to simply call the surgeon’s office and ask. If nothing else, they may be able to refer you to the surgeon you’re looking for.
Ask around. Once you’ve found a surgeon who specializes in the procedure you need, learn more about them and their reputation. Ask members of your community about their experiences with different surgeons. Ask physicians you already trust. Find out whether or not the surgeon has privileges at your preferred hospital. Researching the doctor online and looking for testimonials can also be helpful.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital has a physician referral service that prospective patients can call for advice and information. You can reach the HealthLine team at 941-917-7777.
Make an appointment. If you’re curious about a particular surgeon, schedule a preliminary appointment. Like a first date or an interview, this is an opportunity for both patient and surgeon to get to know each other, to see whether they’re a good match. You can ask the surgeon about his/her experience and comfort level with the procedure, and the surgeon can review your medical history and offer his/her own assessment. The surgeon may even ask to run a few diagnostic tests of their own, to be sure that surgery is your best option.
Gauge your comfort level. As the conversation continues, note how the surgeon reacts and responds to your questions.
“You should be able to ask your surgeon tough questions,” Kennedy says. “You should be able to have an open and honest conversation.” A surgeon who dismisses your concerns or questions will likely not be a good fit for what could very well be a long-term relationship. Similarly, you want a surgeon who will give you honest answers and manage expectations accordingly. “Look for a physician who’s going to be honest with you and not just say what you want them to say,” she adds.
Check your insurance coverage. As with any medical procedure or specialist’s services, you should check with your insurance provider ahead of time to determine what your related benefits are, to ask whether the surgeon and procedure are covered by your insurance plan.
Make the best choice for you. Ultimately, the decision will be a personal one, and it all comes back to trust.
“Find the best fit for you,” Kennedy says. “Don’t rush. Do your homework. Look around.”
And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Considering orthopedic surgery? Click here for more information.
*Originally published May, 2020. Updated April, 2023
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY, and has been struggling to read Infinite Jest for the last four months.