Choosing a Cervical Spine/Neck Surgeon

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Neurosurgeon

Once you have chosen to have cervical spine surgery, choosing your neurosurgeon is one of the most important decisions you can make.

At South Denver Neurosurgery's spine center, our neurosurgeons provide you with unbiased information supported by medical research. We welcome inquisitive patients, and we are committed to answering all your questions and addressing all your concerns.

When choosing a surgeon, whether at South Denver Neurosurgery or any other practice, it is important to not only be assured of your surgeon’s expertise, but to feel comfortable in your relationship with the surgeon.

Questions you may want to ask a prospective neurosurgeon include:

How many procedures have you performed? Experience is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a surgeon. A study published in Neurosurgery found that complication rates for spinal stenosis surgeries were 38 percent higher among spine surgeons who performed fewer than 15 surgeries in four years when compared with complication rates among surgeons who had performed 80 or more spinal stenosis surgeries during the same period. At South Denver Neurosurgery, our experienced spine surgeons typically perform300-400 spinal surgeries each year — more than many practices perform over several years.

Are you board certified? Look for a surgeon who has undergone the necessary training, even after being in clinical practice, to maintain board certification in his or her specialty. At South Denver Neurosurgery, all of our surgeons are  board certified.

What complications can occur with this procedure? No surgical procedure is free of risk, but the severity and likelihood of complications can vary depending on a number of factors. You will want to make sure that your surgeon provides you with honest, comprehensive information.

What results should I expect from this procedure? You will want to discuss with your neurosurgeon what outcome you are likely to experience from the procedure. This can include immediate and long-term results, when you can expect to return to work and normal activities, pain management expectations, and other questions.

What percentage of your practice is devoted to procedures similar to mine? A neurosurgeon who sees mostly cervical spine patients will be more up-to-date on newer technologies and techniques than a physician who performs such procedures only occasionally.

Are you comfortable with me getting a second opinion? If a surgeon is confident with a treatment recommendation, he or she should not be concerned about you seeing another doctor to confirm that recommendation.

Just as it is important to choose an experienced and qualified neurosurgeon, it also is important that you feel comfortable with the neurosurgeon and his or her practice. Points to consider include:

Are you comfortable talking to your neurosurgeon?
No matter how well qualified your doctor may be, you will not have a good experience if you cannot effectively communicate your concerns. It’s important to choose a doctor who will spend time addressing your questions and understanding your treatment goals.

Does the surgeon answer all of your questions?
It is important that the surgeon you choose answer all your questions, and provide information in a way that you understand. In addition, you should feel comfortable asking questions.

Do you have confidence in the staff within the surgeon’s practice? If you have an unexpected concern or question, will the surgeon’s office respond in a timely manner?

Causes for Concern

When choosing the neurosurgeon who is best for you, there are actions or attitudes that should cause you to have second thoughts.  Those include a surgeon who:

  • Discourages, or does not allow second opinions.
  • Does not answer all of your questions, or makes you feel bad about asking them.
  • Tries to influence your decision to have surgery. The decision to have surgery is yours alone. Your doctor's role is to provide you with enough information to comfortably make that decision.
  • Bypasses conservative treatment options. Surgery should always be the treatment of last resort — when non-surgical options have been exhausted.
  • Is not forthcoming about treatments, techniques, outcomes, and expectations for recovery.
  • Uses scare tactics to influence your decision process
  • Promises to "cure" you, which may indicate that the surgeon may not be acting realistically or giving you complete information.


Neurosurgeon vs. Orthopedic Surgeon

Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons perform procedures on the spine. However, the two concentrations differ somewhat in training and specialization.

Neurosurgeons may be medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) and complete a five- to six-year residency focused on the surgical treatment of neurological conditions. Neurosurgeons are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders involving:

  • Brain
  • Spine and spinal cord
  • Nerves
  • Structure of the blood vessels within the skull and spine

Both orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons may extend their training after residency by completing a spine fellowship program. These fellowships provide additional, specialized training for orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons who have successfully completed their residency training and earned their board certification or eligibility in their specialty. However, a neurosurgeon may have more training than an orthopedic surgeon in treatment and care of the nerves within the cervical spine.