On Sunday morning, my neighbor Carolyn knocked on my front door holding a basket of carbs and said, "I need to have my gallbladder out. I've never had an operation and have no idea how to find a surgeon to do my surgery. I don't want to die. I brought you some scones."
Carolyn brings up a valid point -- if you've been blessed with reasonably good health, you probably don't have a surgeon's number on speed dial. Therefore, the bigger question is, in the unfortunate event that you need one, how do you find the best surgeon for your medical condition?
Even routine operations have risks
Straightforward surgeries like gallbladder removal or hernia repair can result in occasional complications so it pays to choose your surgeon with care. But other than asking the doctor who recommended the surgery and running down the list of surgeons on your insurance plan, how do you narrow down the list?
I decided to go directly to the source and consulted with board-certified general surgeon Dr. Amit Kharod, chief of the Department of Surgery at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey for his recommendations.
"You are looking for a highly-skilled service provider with whom you are entrusting your life," Dr. Kharod says. "Take the time to perform proper due diligence so you will be comfortable with the caliber and quality of the surgeon you choose."
The doctor went on to outline tips for finding the right surgeon to meet your specific needs:
• Ask hundreds of people in five seconds
With a click of the "send" key, you can electronically reach out to friends, colleagues, neighbors and their friends for feedback and recommendations. The message you send can be as personal or indirect as you wish -- but social networking should uncover some solid leads.
• Nurses are in the know
Medical office and hospital-based nurses get feedback from patients and colleagues about different surgeons day in and day out. If there aren't any nurses in your social network, call your hospital of choice and ask the nursing director who she would chose if a loved one needed your type of operation.
• Confirm these key credentials
Ascertain that the surgeon is board-certified or board-eligible in his or her specialty by visiting the American Board of Medical Specialties and the Federation of State Medical Boards to make sure he or she is licensed in your state.
• Can the surgeon perform your operation laparoscopically?
Some, but not all, surgeons have undergone advanced training to perform many different procedures laparoscopically using state-of-the-art tools and technology, such as robotics. This can mean significantly less pain and faster recovery for you.
• How often and how many times has the doctor performed your surgery?
You want to see that the surgeon is actively performing this operation with consistently successful outcomes. This can be especially important for procedures which are new or uncommon. Over time, many surgeons tend to perform the certain surgeries with regularity and have dealt with complications before.
• Interview your top candidates
Ideally, meet with your potential surgeon/s in person or at least have a phone conversation. See how quickly you can get on his surgical calendar, also. Use this time to pose your key questions and concerns. Remember, you are purchasing an expensive service from the surgeon, not making a new friend.
After you've chosen a surgeon
Carolyn took Dr. Kharod's advice and discovered a great surgeon who had operated on her husband's colleague and was on staff at her preferred hospital. I reminded her to call the doctor's medical insurance administrator and re-confirm that the doctor, the anesthesiologist and the hospital accepts Carolyn's insurance.
Patients who feel confident in their choice of surgeon should feel more at ease before the operation, which is important. Studies conducted on pre-operative patients show that those with higher stress levels at the time of surgery can take as much as 25 percent longer to recover.
Dr. Kharod also advises people not to hesitate to ask doctors for references. "A good surgeon maintains a roster of satisfied patients who are willing to speak about their experiences under his care. Believe me, if I needed surgery, I would be doing the same thing."