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Posted on in Orthopedics

Tips on Finding the Right Orthopedic Surgeon for Total Joint Replacement

Finding the right surgeon for knee or hip joint replacement is much the same as finding any other doctor or specialist. Ask your other physicians. Find people who have had total joint replacement surgery. 

Yet, ironically, the sources that may be in question – according to the Harvard Medical School Publications – are third-party rating sites.

“Several public agencies have tried to respond to consumer demand for information about which doctors and hospitals are better than others, but it has turned out to be more complicated than it appears,“ noted Dr. Karen Donelan, of the Mongan Institute of Health Policy at Harvard –Associated with Massachusetts General Hospital and a lead author of a recent study.

Basically, people have trouble interpreting the data on public agency sites. So what does this mean for you and your joint replacement surgery?

“After talking with friends, family and personal physicians, talk to your insurance company to see which orthopedic surgeons are covered under your plan,” says McLeod Health Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Michael Sutton of McLeod Orthopaedics Dillon. “Then consider these findings from a pair of surveys by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, which asked the public what they wanted in their surgeon.”  

In addition to whether the surgeon accepts your insurance, the findings fall into 3 groups:

Skill

To start, make sure the surgeon is board-certified in orthopedics. His office staff should be able to tell you that or credentials on the web site should also indicate board certification.  Input from people who have received a knee or hip from the surgeon can help determine their skill.  In addition, you might ask the surgeon these questions:

  • How long have you been practicing? 
  • How many surgeries of the type that you plan to perform on me have you done in the past year?

A 2004 study reported in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that patients operated on by surgeons who performed 50 or more knee replacements a year had a lower risk of complications than those whose surgeons performed 12 or fewer a year. Patients who went to hospitals where more than 200 procedures were performed a year also fared better than those who went to hospitals that did 25 or fewer a year. 

  • What complications have your patients experienced? 
  • Do you have any pending malpractice suits?

Personal Communication

Next to skill, patients in the survey most wanted a surgeon who “listened to patients” and “spends time answering questions.”  Former patients are the best source for this information before you see the surgeon. Your first meeting should confirm what you’ve heard.  

Your relationship with your orthopedic surgeon could last years or decades.  You need to be able to feel emotionally comfortable that the surgeon clearly explains what they plan and why.  

Access

For most patients this boils down to three issues: 

  • How close is the doctor to my home or work? The closest orthopedic surgeon is not necessarily the best choice. On the other hand, since you will be visiting the surgeon often, you don’t want to spend a day of your time (and a friend or spouse) driving to see the surgeon. 
  • How easy is it to get an appointment?  Good surgeons are busy.  So, you may not be able to see the doctor immediately. Neither can you be expected to wait months to see the orthopedic specialist. 
  • How long do I have to sit in the waiting room? Some offices run more smoothly than others.  A short wait is not the only criteria when selecting a good orthopedic surgeon, but it is a sign of patient-centered care.

To find a physician, click here.

Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, About.com, Mongan Institute of Health Policy, Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery

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