How to Pick a Surgeon


Although there are no hard and fast rules about picking the best surgeon, in my 10 years of orthopedic practice, I have observed many patterns that I think could help patients determine who is the best surgeon for them. First of all, I don’t think there is a best surgeon for everyone. There are many traits and attributes that we could all agree on that make a surgeon great: intelligence, good judgment, caring, focused, technical skills, etc. There are many traits that are not universally accepted as positive. These variable traits are why there is no such thing as a best surgeon for everyone.

Patients differ on how authoritative they want their physician to be. Some patients just want to get lots of medical advice from lots of sources (surgeons, internet, friends, etc.) and then assimilate all the information they have gathered and make a decision for themselves. Some patients want a Commander-In-Chief who is going to walk into the room and definitively tell themexactly what to do. If the patient is in the former group but the surgeon is in the latter group, then the patient may think the surgeon is an egomaniac who can’t listen to their patients. If the patient is in the latter group but the surgeon is in the former, then the patient may think the surgeon is timid and uncertain of their skills.

Patients differ on how aggressive they want to pursue many of their medical problems. In orthopedics, patients typically have the luxury of trying to ignore their joint pains and just living with it if they so choose. However, if a patient hurts enough to wait in a doctor’s office for one to two hours and pay a hundred dollars for the office visit, then they probably don’t want to just live with it. If the patient wants immediate action, but the surgeon thinks the problem is self-limiting, just needs a little time and does not want to financially burden the patient, then the patient may think the surgeon is uncaring and incompetent. If the patient just wants reassurance that they are not going to die if they ignore their knee pain, but the surgeon thinks every patient needs an MRI and surgery, then the patient may think the surgeon is only interested in making as much money as possible on the patient’s healthcare.

When I meet a patient for the first time, I am immediately trying to decide if they want me to be the educator or the commander. I can wear either hat, but I prefer to be the educator. I am also immediately trying to decide how debilitating the problem is for the patient, so I can decide how aggressive we should pursue the patient’s problem. I size up the situation correctly most of the time, but no physician reads every situation right every time. When I am wrong, the patient is probably disappointed with their clinic visit; maybe they wanted more or less healthcare, maybe they wanted more or less voice in their healthcare.

My advice for patients is to speak up. If your surgeon underappreciated how much you are hurting, and then clearly state that you want to do everything possible to get to the bottom of the problem. If your surgeon seems to be moving toofast, then ask them what is the worst case scenario if you do nothing and how likely is that to happen. Physicians are not mind readers and we sometimes miss the social cues that typically help us decide the best treatment course for each patient.

For appointments call: 855-NEED-TOA (855-633-3872)

Dr. Will Kurtz

- TOA Joint Replacement Surgeon

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