Choosing a Spine Surgeon
If you are considering spine surgery, you should carefully consider who you want to perform your surgery. There are four primary factors you should consider when choosing a spine surgeon:
Specialty and Education of Spine Surgeons
Your spine is a delicate network of bones, nerves, tendons, ligaments that not only is central to your physical structure but protects the nerves that carry all messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Considering that, it’s natural to be nervous about having spine surgery.
One of the things you can do to help increase your confidence (which, by the way, is linked to better outcomes) is to carefully research and select your surgeon. We recommend starting by considering the education and training of the surgeons you are considering.
First, understand that there is not a medical specialty in spine surgery. Instead, a physician must train as either a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon, then obtain specialized training in treating spine conditions. The primary difference between the two specialties is that orthopedic surgeons provide expertise in treating the musculoskeletal system while neurosurgeons provide expertise in the nervous system. The spine involves both the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
Whether you choose an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon for your spine surgery, you should consider the physician’s training in spine care. Both neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons can complete spine fellowships, which are typically one year in length and involve in-depth training in spine surgery and spinal procedures, as well as contributing to peer-reviewed publications. Some surgeons, such as South Denver Neurosurgery’s Ben Guiot, MD, have completed multiple spine fellowships. Dr. Guiot completed fellowships in minimally invasive spine surgery, complex reconstruction of the spine, and pediatric spinal deformity.
Experience of a Spine Surgeon Matters
When choosing a spine surgeon, the experience of your spine surgeon can impact your outcome. For example, a study published in Neurosurgery1 found that complication rates of spine stenosis surgeries completed by spine surgeons who had performed fewer than 15 surgeries in four years was 38 percent higher when compared with spine surgeons who had performed 80 or more spinal stenosis surgeries during the same period.
An experienced spine surgeon—someone who has performed the spine procedure for 5 years or more or performed the spine procedure at least 30 times—may result in*:
- Reduced complications
- Better screening of patients (and lower rates of patients referred for surgery)
- Lower infection rates
- Lower complication rates
- Decreased length of hospital stay
- Reduced reoperation rates
*For more information on the statistics of these results as well as to read the medical studies supporting these findings, download this free spine surgery guide.
Finding the Right Spine Surgeon
In addition to weighing your spine surgeon’s experience, it’s also important to make sure you feel comfortable with your spine surgeon.
Whether you choose to have your spine surgery with South Denver Neurosurgery or another spine surgeon, we encourage you to ask the following questions to help you select a Colorado spine surgeon that is best for you and your condition:
- Have you completed this procedure before? If so, how many times?
- What is your complication rate when performing this procedure?
- What are the most common complications of this procedure?
- What is your infection rate?
- Do you have any statistics in regard to your surgery success?
- What does recovery from this procedure look like/entail?
- Do you have a forum where I can talk to previous patients?
Also be sure to note the surgeon’s demeanor, how they treat you, and whether the surgeon feels like a good fit. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
- Do you have the surgeon’s full attention?
- Is the surgeon someone you feel comfortable with?
- Does the surgeon help you understand all of your options and the pros and cons of each? Does the surgeon provide you with research to support treatment recommendations?
- Do you feel like the surgeon is working to find the best treatment for your particular case? Do you feel like the surgeon is supportive of your decisions?
1 Dasenbrock HH; Clarke MJ; Witham TF; Sciubba DM; Gokaslan ZL; and Bydon A. “The impact of provider volume on the outcomes after surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis.” Neurosurgery. June 2012: 1346-53. PubMed ID: 22610361. Web. 9 Mar 2015 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22610361