Consumer Wise: Picking a surgeon before going under the knife

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Host
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 7:25 AM EST

If you have a surgery planned, picking a surgeon is one of the most important decisions you will make.

Dr. Sharona Ross is a general surgeon at Florida Hospital Tampa. She says patients should never take picking a surgeon lightly.

“This is a physician that’s going to put a knife in hand and going to cut you open. It's important,” Ross said.

One of the first things to check is whether the surgeon is board certified in the specialty related to the procedure you’re having done.

“You went through the training, received all the appropriate education and went through the testing in order to be board certified,” Dr. Ross said.

The American Board of Medical Specialties has a website you can use to check out your surgeon’s background. On the Certification Matters website, you simply type the doctor’s name and it’ll pull up certifications and if they’re up to date.

Another important tip in picking a surgeon is to check success, failure and complication rates. Most often, those numbers relate to experience doing the procedure.

“If you do a specific operation a lot, your outcomes are much, much better,” Dr. Ross said.

It’s also important for surgeons to use best practices and be up on the latest techniques. Most important, be informed. Surgeons should welcome your questions.

“Nobody should be intimidated by their surgeon. It’s very important to be engaged to be knowledgeable and question your surgeon,” Ross said.

Even relatively straight-forward surgeries, like gallbladder removal or hernia repair, can cause serious complications, so it's important to take the time to find the right surgeon.

Before any surgery, it’s also a good idea to ask the surgeon if there are any options that aren’t invasive.

Factors to consider when you're thinking about a second opinion:

  • Is it a complex procedure?
  • What are the indications for the operation?
  • What, if any, alternative forms of treatment are available?
  • What will be the likely result if you don't have the operation?
  • What are the risks?
  • How is the operation expected to improve your health or quality of life?
  • Are there likely to be residual effects from the operation?
  • Are you comfortable with the surgeon?
  • Is he/she answering all your questions?